By Nick Hampton
OKAY – A flu shot is what most of us are taking to cure our ills these days. But for the Oktaha Tigers, the cure for their ailment was a W.
Friday night’s 54-43 victory over the Okay Mustangs “cured” the Tigers of a rare two-game losing streak as Oktaha, ranked No. 2 in Okrankings.com Class 2A poll, improved to 13-2 on the season. But it wasn’t without some anxious moments at the end for the Tigers.
“The kids played hard, but some of the guys are fighting the flu and we may have just run out of gas towards the end of the game,” said a relieved Oktaha coach Jim Glover. “We blew some defensive assignments and they hit some big shots to close the gap late.”
Friday’s game was much closer than the 71-46 Tigers’ victory when the teams played in December, thanks in large part to the three-point shooting of 5-foot-6 forward Dakota Haley who led the Mustang attack with five 3-pointers for 15 points.
“We knew coming in that they shot the 3 pretty well so we tried to go man-to-man defensively,” Glover said. “They did a good job of patiently working the ball and screening to get him open and we had some defensive breakdowns.”
Oktaha owned a 22-point lead, 45-23 after three quarters.
Okay coach Chad Clark said his team had a tough time against Oktaha’s defense.
“We had a bunch of turnovers and I’ve got them scoring 16 points off our turnovers,” he said. “Oktaha plays a good, hard-nosed man-to-man defense. They are well-coached.”
But Okay charged out of the gate to open the final quarter. With three consecutive 3-pointers by Haley, the Mustangs outscored the Tigers 16-4 in the first five minutes to cut the gap to 10 (49-39) with just under three minutes left. But the Mustangs could muster only two more points the rest of the way. Christian McIntosh, who led all scorers with 20 points, hit a pair of free throws with 59 seconds left to ice the game for the Tigers. The senior forward was certainly glad to see the losing streak snapped.
“We were finally able to close one out,” he said.
In addition to McIntosh, Dustin Leach had 11 points for the Tigers and Blake Pittman added 10. Devon Fry, the Tigers 6-4 center, had six points but pulled down 11 rebounds in the win.
Nigel King with 14 points and Zac Cagle with 10 joined Haley in double figures for the Mustangs (4-7).
Oktaha 69 , Okay 45
The fourth-ranked Lady Tigers (14-1) dashed off the first seven points of the game and never looked back in breezing to the win.
Junior forward Jaylie Roper scored 14 of her team-high 20 points in the first half. Oktaha took advantage of 10 Okay turnovers in the half and to own a 38-20 lead at halftime.
The Lady Mustangs (5-8) fought hard in the second half, trimming the Oktaha lead to just 11 at one point early in the fourth quarter. But the Lady Tigers bounced back with a 10-0 run over the next three minutes to put the game away.
Even though Oktaha had a fairly easy time of it, both coaches acknowledged the big improvement by the Lady Mustangs since Oktaha drubbed them 82-23 the first time they played.
“Tonight, Okay played like I thought they were capable of playing,” Oktaha coach Chester Pittman said. “I think sometimes when you beat an opponent like we did the first time, it makes it more difficult to get your kids ready to play. But overall, I’m pretty pleased with where we are right now.”
Perhaps Okay’s biggest improvement has been the much more aggressive inside play of center Bristen Graves who had a game high 23 points, much to the pleasure of coach Charlie McMahan.
“Bristen has really taken over for us and helped out a lot and Courtney (Smith) is starting to bounce back from her ankle injury too,” McMahan said.
Besides Roper, the only other Lady Tiger in double figures was Lanessa Grayson with 18 points and nine rebounds.
Oktaha hosts Savanna next Tuesday while Okay travels to Vian.