By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
TULSA – Muskogee’s 63-47 loss to Union at John Q. Hammons Arena on Friday night was a game of contrasts.
One, it was far from the 69-46 Lady Roughers’ win over this same team Jan. 17 at Ron Milam Gymnasium.
Moreover, No. 11 Union (14-9, 9-5) won for the eighth time in nine games while No. 2 Muskogee (18-5, 9-5) heads into its home regional opener next Thursday against Moore having lost three of its final four regular season contests. It also lost a chance for an outright Frontier Conference title, which they now will share with the Lady Redskins, Jenks and possibly Bixby.
The Lady Roughers led 19-11 after a quarter before Union ran off 11 unanswered points to start the second period. Muskogee didn’t score again until Mari Jackson’s free throw at 5:06, then didn’t hit from the field until McClure’s feed to Aaliyah Wilson on the break following a steal by Alexus Wilson made it 24-22 MHS with 4:30 to go in the half
The Lady Roughers were also 5-of-27 after the half. Down 32-31 at the break, McClure scored the first basket of the second half, then Union, crisp in all facets of its offensive game, took the lead for good.
Six-foot senior guard/forward I’mani Davis, the Lady Redskins’ lone offensive threat in the first meeting with 25 points, had 22 points and 14 rebounds in the rematch, but junior forward Kensley Fox, the younger sister of Northeastern State standout Carrington Fox, had four 3-pointers in a 18-point night. Three came in the first five minutes of the third quarter, the last putting Union up 43-33 with 3:04 in the period. It would get below double-digits only once in the fourth quarter and her regulation bucket would give her team a 17-point cushion with just under 2:00 remaining.
Amaya Christon, a junior guard, added 11 points.
Davis, as did Christon, scored both inside around the basket and in transition, leaving the rocket-launchers to Fox.
“Our defense should have been in some of those passing lanes,” MHS coach Doyle Rowland said. “If we’re not playing defense the way we should, this is what will happen. We’re not as big as they are. We’re quick, but they’re just as quick, so we have to be on our game defensively and rebound with them. They had six or seven offensive rebounds in the second quarter alone.”
Overall, Union outrebounded Muskogee 39-27.
McClure led MHS with 14 points. Alexus Wilson had 10.
Other than conference relevancy, nothing else was riding on this contest. The postseason seedings were set prior to this 1-3 Senior Night road tour.
They all count now, and whether the Lady Roughers can shake the doldrums they’ve been in remains to be seen.
“The teams that are rolling at this point are the ones who will have it going in the playoffs,” Rowland said. “So in that respect, they do matter.”
Union 58, MHS 39
The Roughers had a mulligan to use, sort of. They will face this same Union team in a game that counts far more than this one did next Friday at Stillwater in the first round of regionals.
Lose that one, and the season’s over. Another cold spell like the one they had here Friday, and it will most assuredly be, a half-game worse than last year’s 8-15 finish they matched Friday in finishing 4-10 in Frontier Conference play.
No. 12 Union will take a sweep of the home-and-home series and a 14-9 mark to Friday’s neutral site, having finished 9-5 in the conference.
Muskogee charged back from a 12-6 deficit to take the lead at 17-14, Lavare Reed’s basket giving the Roughers that margin with 6:27 until halftime. They held the lead until Josh Davis made it a 21-20 game, connecting on a jumper at the 2:55 mark.
Then, Muskogee would go scoreless for the final 4 1/2 minutes, not connecting again until David Beasley’s jumper from inside the free-throw circle with 2:40 left in the third, making it a 34-22 contest – a scoreless span of just shy of 10 minutes.
“That hurt,” said Muskogee coach Josh Berry.
Turnovers – 12 in all – were the main culprit.
The Roughers hit just two fourth-quarter field goals, one each by Anthony King and Quintahj Cherry. The deficit hit 20, 52-32, with 2:32 to play, and topped out at 21 moments later.
Jeff Mead, a stocky 6-7 forward, led Union with 16 points and 11 rebounds. David Beasley had 13 points, seven in the first quarter, for Muskogee. Tramal Ivy had 11 points and six rebounds, tops for his squad.
“We can’t turn the ball over like we did,” Ivy said. “More than anything offensively that’s it.”
Union held a 26-16 edge in rebounding.
“They’re real big, real strong, and kind of push their way around,” Berry added. “We’re going to have to have the mindset that we’re not going to get the calls against that and just get tough with them.
“Defensively we just need to rotate better and again, match their toughness and approach it like if we’re not scoring, then let’s not let them score.”
Next Friday’s contest follows the girls’ game which tips at 6:30 p.m.