I had the opportunity to catch four-time Ada News All-Area Boys Player of the Year Dalen Qualls in action for his Northern Oklahoma Jets when they battled Murray State College Monday night at the venerable Beames Fieldhouse in Tishomingo.
Qualls and his Jets (14-6) dropped a 74-66 decision to the host Aggies (8-9), despite trimming a 14-point second- half lead to four with 3:36 to play. Trailing 61-47, Qualls sparked the comeback attempt when he drained a 3-pointer from the top of the circle and converted on a fast-break layup. Two free throws by Northern’s David Lewis got the Jets within 62-59 with 3:11 left and Conner Brooks missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer on Norther’s next trip down the court.
After a timeout with 1:56 left, the Jets forced a MSC miss, but Trai Jordan corralled the rebound (one of many of the offensive variety that repeatedly hurt Northern all night), hit a point-blank shot, was fouled and sank the free throw to covert the momentum-stealing three-point play.
Qualls finished with 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting and sank all five of his free throw attempts, despite being the focal point of the Aggies’ defense. He also had three rebounds, a steal and an assist. Qualls also drew the task of covering Murray State scorer Tim Smallwood, who finished with nine points, well below his average.
“They don’t let him catch it. They run him off the three-line. That’s pretty normal,” said Northern head coach Greg Shamburg.
Qualls is averaging almost 15 points per game as a sophomore and scored a season-high 27 points in an 85-71 home loss to Connors on Jan. 17.
Shamburg has watched his star sophomore continue to get better during his collegiate career.
“He’s improved a lot. He’s learning to run off screens and to defend in the man (to-man). He’s gotten a lot better,” he said. “He’s a great kid. We all know he’s been a great player in high school and has had a good college career. He does whatever you ask him to do on and off the floor. He’s been fun to coach and be around.”