POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. -- The leading scorer again led when it mattered most.
Junior Luke Harper fueled a 15-4 run late in the first half that erased a nine point hole and the John Brown University men's basketball team never trailed in the second half in a 66-57 defensive shutdown of College of the Ozarks (Mo.) on Friday afternoon inside the Keeter Gymnasium.
Densier Carnes hit a 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 42 seconds left in the first half and Harper added an old-fashioned three-point play, turning a nine-point deficit into a two-point lead heading into the intermission.
The John Brown (6-6) stifling defense that forced the Bobcats into 18 turnovers -- a season-worst mark for College of the Ozarks -- held back Ozarks just long enough to pull away in the waning moments, despite never trailing in the second half. Up just five, 60-55, Harpers' score in the lane was followed by a pair from sophomore D.J. Ellis at the free-throw line. Ellis scored his last bucket -- capping off 10 second-half points, after Rokas Grabliuaskas forced College of the Ozarks into its final turnover -- and the Golden Eagles returned to a comfortable 11-point lead with just 27 seconds remaining.
After the Bobcats (1-4) took its largest lead of the game, 24-15, John Brown responded by closing out the final 27 minutes by out-scoring the hosts 51-33. JBU held a 12-4 turnover advantage during the stretch that ultimately turned into a 25-12 scoring advantage off the Bobcats' miscues. After 10 ties and lead changes in the first half, John Brown out-rebounded CofO 18-15 in the second half and enjoyed a 24-5 scoring margin in contribution from reserves.
Harper tallied a team-best 16 points on 7 of 15 shooting, while Ellis came off the bench to score 10 of his 12 points in the second half. Junior Ira Perrier hit 5 of 8 from the floor to score 10 points and freshman Noah Taylor came off the bench in the second half and personally fueled an 8-0 run that kept John Brown in the lead.
The Golden Eagles had an off day from long range, but converted 9 of 12 chances from the charity stripe while finishing just shy of 40 percent from the field (25 of 63).
"Our guys are just hungry to play games and compete, so after another game was canceled, we jumped at the opportunity to play someone," head coach Jason Beschta said after the game. "It provided us with valuable experience and the chance to improve what we do with the hopes of being at our absolute best next week as we enter the conference tournament.
"It was great to see a couple guys really get going tonight who needed to see some shots fall. We definitely did some things better today than we have other games this season. It's a quick turnaround before we play Oklahoma City (Saturday) afternoon for Senior Day, but everyone in our program is excited to celebrate Aaron (Kerr) and all that he means to everyone around here."
Treydon Rackley converted 8 of 9 from the line to boast the afternoon's largest offensive output -- 20 points, and Ayden Stone earned 13 points and nine rebounds, but the Bobcats couldn't feature a third double-digit scorer.
The game against College of the Ozarks was a late addition after Sooner Athletic Conference games against Science and Arts on Feb. 16 and Southwestern Christian on Feb. 18 were canceled because of winter weather.
JBU was scheduled to close out its regular season on Saturday at home against Oklahoma City. Results were not available at presstime.
The Golden Eagles are scheduled to play in the Sooner Athletic Conference Tournament this week, beginning Tuesday and continuing on Saturday with the semifinals and the finals on March 2. The complete tournament schedule was not available at presstime.
JBU now closes out the regulars season on Saturday (Feb. 20) afternoon when it welcomes Oklahoma City to Bill Geroge Arena in a 3:45 p.m. tip. The contest will air on the SAC Sports Network.