By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
The rarefied air of a No. 3 ranking not seen since 2001, a third tournament title in as many attempts and a 3-13 Sand Springs team coming to town was a lethal combination for what was a sluggish opening quarter for Muskogee at Ron Milam Gymnasium on Tuesday night.
The Lady Roughers trailed 11-5 before tying the Frontier Conference affair at quarter’s end, at which time fortune took a drastic upswing.
Forcing 11 Sand Springs turnovers and holding the Lady Sandites to three points, Muskogee broke from a 14-all tie and finished the second quarter on a 14-0 run to set the plate for their 10th consecutive win, 59-34.
The capper was a 3-point basket at the buzzer by freshman Aaliyah Wilson, who had three steals in the frame.
Muskogee (15-2, 6-2) didn’t score in the third until Wilson popped one with 2:20 to go, ending an 0-for-6, six-turnover run. But the Lady Roughers finished the quarter on a 9-2 surge and led 45-22 heading into the final eight minutes.
“We had to pick it up because we weren’t fully there to start,” said the first-year Lady Rougher forward, whose 11 points was edged by Kelsey McClure’s 14 for high-point honors. Her senior sister, Alexus Wilson, had 13 points and a team-high eight rebounds, and Aerious King had 10 points to go with four rebounds and a blocked shot.
“The first thing I thought was play on defense so when I got in, I picked that up and we started picking it up from then on.”
Mixing his bench throughout the game, Muskogee coach Doyle Rowland sat all his starters with 3 1/2 minutes to go, his team leading 57-30. But he wasn’t totally pleased.
“Every game is important right now so we can’t look over nobody, we can’t look down on nobody, and I told the girls, you can’t take your foot off the gas pedal and if you do, you’re priming yourself to get beat,” he said. “That was my whole speech at the beginning of the game.”
The attention might have not been there then, but it should be now. Muskogee has one more contest — at home Friday against Broken Arrow — before records are closed for the purpose of seeding in the postseason playoff brackets. While Muskogee is all but assured of hosting a regional, they’re still behind No. 2 Bixby, a team they beat at home two weeks ago — which at this point would keep them from being the top seed in the east.
That didn’t have Rowland happy either.
“We don’t have any love on the other side of the Arkansas River and don’t believe you can think otherwise because it’s the buddy-buddy system over there,” he said.
Morgan Pennington had 12 points for Sand Springs, which lost 66-48 at Muskogee on Dec. 11, is 3-14 and winless in nine conference contests. Monica Foster finished with 10 but had eight in the first quarter for the Lady Sandites.
Muskogee 55, Sand Springs 44
Tramal Ivy and his team had their moments of inconsistency and their moments of brilliance on Tuesday.
Ivy had 14 points and 16 rebounds, but 11 of each in the second half. It was characteristic of the team (8-9, 4-4), which used two streaks, one in the first half and one in the fourth quarter to hold off the Sandites (1-16, 0-9) in a game that all night long seemed closer than the double-digit end result.
“He’s a great player when he wants to be,” Muskogee coach Josh Berry said. “He started kind of lackadaisical early but then all of a sudden he just flipped the switch and decided to get into the game and once he gets into the game, we’re pretty good.”
The lead changed hands three times in the first quarter before David Beasley’s buzzer-beating 3 sent Muskogee to the bench leading 15-14. That shot generated a 10-0 run, Beasley and Ivy connecting on a pair of shots before Nathan Pierce’s 3 made it a 22-14 game just a couple minutes into the period. Sand Springs hung around, though, behind Ashton Palmer’s game-high 22 points.
Ivy shouldered much of the third-quarter load while his team stumbled out of the second-half gate, hitting just one of their first seven shots. All three of Ivy’s makes were off missed shots, including one of his own, and his team found itself up 36-29 headed to the fourth.
Sand Springs ran off five unanswered points to make it a one-point game, then the Roughers flipped the switch again. Beasley, who finished with 16 points, answered first, then it was a mix of him along with Ivy, Anthony King, Quintahj Cherry and Lavare Reed on what became a 17-1 run to make it all but over at 53-36.
King also struck double figures with 13 points.
For the Roughers, it was the third win in as many meetings against the Sandites, winning the first two in back-to-back fashion in December, 65-33 in the Tahlequah Invitational and 64-35 in league at Sand Springs.
“We came out slow, with the attitude we would blow them out, but our effort picked up,” Ivy said.
His rebound total was one shy of his season high, noted Berry.
“His aunt (Lady Rougher senior Mari Jackson) has 18 and we’ve been giving it to him pretty hard about that,” Berry said.