By Nick Hampton
PARK HILL — It was the kind of pressure cooker you want to be able to survive as the postseason draws near.
For the Fort Gibson Tigers, things got very uncomfortable before they were able to right the ship and hang on for a 52-47 win against the Keys Cougars Friday night at the Keys Field House.
Throughout most of the contest, the Tigers were in control, leading by 26-15 at the half and 42-28 after three quarters.
Then the Cougars pounced.
Keys picked up the defensive pressure while outscoring the Tigers 8-2 in the opening three minutes of the final quarter to cut the margin to 44-36. In an effort to slow the Cougars’ momentum, Coach Gary Hendrix put his Tigers (16-3) in a spread offense with four minutes to play.
“They do such a good job defensively that we were having trouble scoring,” he said. ”My idea was to spread things out and maybe open up some lanes to the basket. “But when they applied pressure in their zone trap, we turned the ball over instead of getting the easy shots.”
The turnovers proved costly as Keys (10-9) rattled off six unanswered points, capped by a steal and layup by the Cougars’ Cody Cole to make it 46-42 with a minute to play. Keys was forced to foul and the Tigers’ Jordan Hill stepped up to the line for a one-and-one opportunity with 50 seconds left to play.
“On that first free throw, it rolled everywhere around the rim and then went in and I was like ‘Wow, how did that happen?’” Hill said. “The next one went right in and it felt good. It was a lot of pressure and that’s what I need now.”
The Tigers’ other Jordan — Jordan London — also stepped up and knocked down a pair of free throws with 20 seconds left to ice the win.
“I was proud of our kids for making some plays when we had to at the end and held on in a tough road environment,” Hendrix said.
On the other side, Keys coach Duane Jones was equally proud on his crew for battling Class 4A’s seventh-ranked team, despite not having one of their leading scorers and top rebounder in Payton Ragsdale.
“I was really proud of our defensive effort in that last quarter,” Jones said. “We got some steals and made it a close contest.”
Hill led the Tigers with 16 points while Zack Lindley contributed 12 points and Ned Adair had 10. The Cougars were led by Trevor Eubanks with 13 points and Cole added 10.
Fort Gibson 46, Keys 30
On a night where the phrase “cold shooting” was a major understatement, Class 4A’s second-ranked Lady Tigers remained undefeated for the season as they went to the inside game and strong defense to pound out the win.
It was nightmarish night of shooting for Fort Gibson, going 14-of-49 (29 percent) from the field and only 2-of-18 (11 percent) from beyond the arc.
“Pretty poor shooting,” Fort Gibson coach Jerry Walker said. “No excuses. We had open looks and didn’t hit. And when that happens you’ve got to make sure and play good defense. And to hold this bunch to 30 points on their floor tells me we did that.”
Since they couldn’t hit from the outside, the Lady Tigers (19-0) used the inside muscle of senior center Brooke Palmer, who scored nine of her game-high 15 points in the first half to spur Fort Gibson to a 26-12 halftime advantage.
Keys (10-8) didn’t fare much better in the shooting department, going 12-of-50 (24 percent) from the field for the game. The Lady Cougars used the inside play of their center Sydney Rainbolt to stay in the game. But, as has been the case much of the season, she got in foul trouble with three fouls in the first half and eventually fouled out midway through the final quarter with a team-high 12 points.
“If we have her in the game, we’re a different ball club,” Keys coach Mickey Duncan said. “You look at every loss we have so far and she’s ended up on the bench at the end.”
Despite their shooting difficulties, Fort Gibson led at the half 26-12. Keys made a brief run early in the third quarter by scoring seven straight out of the gate to make it 26-19. But the Lady Tigers outscored Keys 10-2 over the final 5:41 of the quarter to lead 36-21.
Palmer was the only Lady Tiger in double figures on the night.
The Tigers will be home to face Coweta on Monday, then Hilldale on Tuesday. The Cougars are also home on Tuesday to play Locust Grove.