By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
OKLAHOMA CITY – Again, Sequoyah got off to a slow start.
Unlike the last two games, there would be no successful rally in this one.
No. 2 Okemah rattled the Indians guards with pressure defense and never trailed in a 55-35 rout over the No. 8 outfit in the Class 3A semifinals here Friday morning at State Fair Arena.
Sequoyah went six possessions without scoring before Ryan Helsley’s 3 off the right wing made it a 7-3 game with 3:53 in the first quarter. And just like in Thursday’s quarterfinal against Sperry, the Indians mounted a first-half charge.
It just wasn’t enough of one.
They got within 15-13 after T.J. Jones connected on a jumper with 7:48 until the half and had a shot to at least tie the game on its next possession, but turned the ball over. Stoney Newton, who changed uniforms from 33 to 42 at the end of the quarter when he got blood on his shirt, bookended a 13-4 run with a pair of jumpers, one with 6:07 on the clock and the other with about two minutes to play, making it 28-17.
It was 31-19 at the half, and any thoughts of a Sequoyah comeback similar to the one against defending champion Oklahoma Centennial in last week’s area finals was snuffed out with a 2-of-10 shooting skid in the third quarter, being outscored by a 17-5 margin to trail 48-24 going to the fourth.
After a 9-of-21 first half, the Indians were 5-of-19 the rest of the way Caisen Green, who with Helsley average a team-high 14 points on the season, was shut out, taking just three shots all game.
He was but part of the Panthers’ focus.
“They have several guys who shoot the ball really well off catch and we wanted our guys to have hard hands today and make them put the ball on the floor first and square them up second,” said Okemah coach Kale Simon.
Green felt it.
“They put a lot of pressure on us. We just couldn’t get past them. We forced up bad shots and couldn’t get open,” he said.
Sequoyah coach Jay Herrin didn’t mince words.
“There’s a reason why they’ve won 26 games,” he said. “We’ve been a good third-quarter team all year long. We weren’t able to hit shots, the time we had to get our shots off was really small, and we had a hard time getting to the free-throw line.
“Our defense wasn’t bad. Holding them in the 50s isn’t bad at all. But the offense just wasn’t there. They’re a very talented team, the best I’ve seen and I expect them to win it tomorrow.”
Green thinks they will beat either.
“They play better defense than what we saw against Centennial and their more under control,” he said.
The Panthers’ lead peaked at 27, 53-26 when John Wingfield’s layup rolled around and dropped through the net with 5:16 to play.
Newton led Okemah with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting. He was 2-of-3 from 3-point land.
“This was a drive-only guy last year but he put in a lot of 6:30 mornings and 8:30 nights and it’s made him a better shooter,” Simon said.
Jones led Sequoyah, again off the bench, with 11 points. Helsley had 10. After hitting eight 3s against Sperry, the Indians were 3-of-12 from beyond the arc Friday.
Making its first state appearance since 2010, Sequoyah finishes at 20-9 – same as the girls, who lost in Thursday’s quarterfinals in what was their first state tourney since 2010.
It’s a positive, says Herrin, for a school that had its football program removed from postseason play and has been through four basketball coaching changes on the girls side. And then there was the late-season controversy surrounding Green and a Facebook post of a pit bull in his yard he allegedly killed with an arrow. The Cherokee County district attorney’s office on Thursday declined to prosecute Green.
“We’ve had a lot of issues going on and to win 20 and get back to the semifinals kind of makes us feel like we’re back when we belong,” Herrin said.