By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
TAHLEQUAH — It was perhaps the most intriguing matchup Muskogee will have this year, and in the end, one they let slip away.
SOYLA — which stands for Save Our Youth Leadership Academy — brought its Tulsa-based band of international giants in to the United Keetowah Band Tahlequah Tiger Invitational on Thursday and after trailing by double-digits for most of the middle two quarters, rallied past the Roughers in the final eight minutes for a 54-48 victory.
SOYLA’s starting five stood 7-foot-3, 7-1, 6-5, 6-6 and 6-1 and despite owning a 24-12 edge on the boards in the first half, trailed the Roughers 26-18. Tramal Ivy, Muskogee’s 6-5 junior in the block, had 15 of his 21 points before the break and was eventually able to out-physical the tall but less physical Defenders, who were never able to get on track offensively during that time, going 5-of-19 including 1-of-13 in the second quarter.
But a half-court trap late in the third and into the fourth began paying dividends. The Defenders got the last two baskets if the quarter to close what was a 35-22 deficit to 40-33.
Anthony King had a 3-pointer from the corner with 5:31 left to try and stem the tide at 43-37, but the Roughers, now 1-1, wouldn’t hit another field goal until the final minute. MHS was scoreless until King’s free throw with 2:14 to go, which stopped a 13-0 run for SOYLA, much of it off trap turnovers.
Muskogee coach Josh Berry didn’t see the size disadvantage as a problem, but perhaps it eventually wore on them.
“It came down to our energy level,” he said. “When we play hard and with energy we’re fun to watch.
“They did some things we’ll see in the Frontier Conference in terms of their defensive game with the half-court, three-quarter court stuff. We have to be mentally tough and play right, make the right read and play unselfish. I think we got away from being unselfish which kept us from re-establishing ourselves.”:
Mamadou Lamine, a 7-1 sophomore out of Senegal, finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and one blocked shot to lead SOYLA. Daniel DeCosta, a 6-8 junior reserve out of the Bahamas who helped spur the half-court trap attack, had six fourth-quarter points and finished with 12, all after the opening quarter.
SOYLA (3-1) is not a member of the OSSAA and will play eight games locally and the rest across the country.
“We were finally able to get our rotations right, applied pressure and shot when we could and were able take up some space with that fourth-quarter strategy,” SOYLA coach Roy Pinder said.
Muskogee will play Enid, a lower to Coweta in another opening-round game, at 11:30 this morning in a consolation semifinal.
Muskogee girls roll
So much for rotation adjustments.
This one was never in doubt as the Lady Roughers (1-1) rebounded from a disappointing season-opening loss to Sapulpa, storming to a 26-1 lead after one quarter and cruised from there in a 53-11 win over Oklahoma City Southeast.
“They’re not going to be the strongest team we see, but I think the girls had a little salt in their mouth (from Tuesday) and they were eager to take care of business and they just happened to take it out on the first team that got ‘em,” MHS coach Doyle Rowland said.
“We were high-intensity on offense and our defense matched it, allowing the offense to get some easy baskets on transition.”
Kelsey McClure scored 17 points, all in the first half, and had six rebounds and two steals. Alexus Wilson scored 11 with eight rebounds and four steals. Mari Jackson had her first varsity double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“I sat down earlier today and explained to every player what their role was, every one of them,” Rowland said. “They understood that and went out and executed. If everyone plays that way game in game out, we’ll be tough to beat. But we have a tough one coming up.”
Muskogee gets Rogers (Ark.) Heritage, a 40-35 winner over Yukon, in a 7 p.m. semifinal. The winner moves to Saturday’s championship game, also at 7.
David Dick scored 16 points to lead Tahlequah (1-1) to a 64-54 victory over Sapulpa, Muskogee’s season-opening opponent.
Dick helped the Tigers’ bench outscore Sapulpa’s reserves, 29-4. Darius Madison, a 6-6 senior forward, came off the bench to provide the Tigers with 13 points and nine rebound
“That was a good bounce-back for us,” said Dick, who scored 10 points after halftime against Sapulpa (0-2). “We really needed that.”
Tahlequah gets Moore, a 56-40 winner over Sand Springs in an 8:30 p.m. semifinal today.
Back to the girls side, Randee O’Donnell, who struggled to hit shots early on, righted herself and led Tahlequah with 12 points and eight rebounds as the Lady Tigers advanced to the semifinals and will play Moore at 4 p.m. today.
“I didn’t know how we were going to come out and play, because you always hate those early games,” Tahlequah coach Chad Walker said. “But I was proud of the girls, I thought they fought through an early bug and snapped out of it.”
Tahlequah (2-0) fell into a funk in the first quarter when it allowed Sand Springs to tie the game at 7. From there, it was all Lady Tigers as they closed the first period on a 5-0 run and outscored Sand Springs 17-6 in the second quarter.
Also in the girls bracket, Muskogee’s JV lost to Moore 56-41 as Lanice Rozell had 11 points. Muskogee JV plays Sand Springs at 10 a.m. today in the consolation round.
CNHI’s Ben Johnson contributed to this story.