Lacking flavor for several years, the Hilldale-Fort Gibson boys basketball rivalry has gotten spicy of late.
On Saturday, the two teams staged perhaps their biggest battle yet in the Large School championship game of the 40th Bedouin Shrine Classic. Hilldale’s 69-57 win on Saturday, its second win in three meetings after losing 16 straight dating back to 2010, has the Hornets thinking differently about themselves.
“It feels good,” said Ty O’Neal, who had 18 points and 16 rebounds. “We keep working hard and doing our thing, we can go to state and win it.”
State is a familiar place for Fort Gibson. Not so much for Hilldale, at 13 ranked one spot behind the Tigers in the Class 4A rankings.. That may indeed change, but for now, the Hornets (9-2) can claim a championship in their second year back in the tournament since departing in 2014. It’s been since 1997 they could claim one here, that coming in the Small School bracket.
Fort Gibson (7-2), on the other hand, have lost their last two championship games here since last playing here in 1986, falling to Southeast last year.
“They scrap and hustle and you have to out hustle and out fight them,” said Hornets coach Scott Hensley said of the Tigers. “They always make us better. Every time we play. I don’t know if we make them better but they make us better.”
O’Neal scored the first five Hornets’ points of the second quarter, a pair of drives that gave Hilldale two 10-point advantages at 18-8 and 20-10 inside of six minutes to go in the period.
Conner Calavan, whose 3 at the buzzer beat Hilldale in December, hit his first basket on a 3 then followed that with a basket off a drive as part of a 7-0 run that ended with Seth Rowan’s steal and feed off a break to Jaxon Blunt, making it 20-17.
T.J. Maxwell’s 3 quelled that push with 2:20 to go. Lawson, who had eight first-quarter points including a pair of 3s, fed O’Neal with 1:38 to go and the Hornets were back up 26-17 in a game that ended up 28-22 at the half as Jaiden Graves hit a free throw and scored on a drive with :20 left.
Nathan Franklin’s put-back made it a 3-point Fort Gibson deficit, 31-28, early in the third. A pair of 3s by Maxwell shifted the momentum back to the Hornets, who went back up by 12, 46-34, with 1:46 to go in the quarter.
Rowan’s 3 for Fort Gibson ended the scoring in the quarter. The Hornets then parlayed a 3 by O’Neal, a 3 by Hunter Parson and a three-point play by Evan Smith into their biggest lead of the night, 55-39 with 5:44 to go.
The Tigers didn’t quit, getting it to 59-52 on a bucket-and-one by Graves with 2:15 to go. But O’Neal beat a pair of Tiger defenders inside the lane for a layup off his drive with 1:42 to play, then rebounded Blunt’s miss at the other end which led to a pair of free throws by Parson with 1:17 to go to push it back to double-digits.
“We did a better job on transition defense and finding Calavan, a much better job than we did at their place in December,” said Hensley.
Fort Gibson will get another possible shot at its rival at the Old Fort Classic in two weeks. The two teams have one other conference meeting at Hilldale as well.
“They’ve got some really good kids and Coach Hensley has done a good job with that program,” Tigers coach Todd Dickerson said. “You could tell they wanted a little revenge and they got it.”
Maxwell had 16 points, Lawson had 15 and Parson 12 for Hilldale. Maxwell and Lawson were All-Tournament selections. They were joined by putback, who finished with a game-high 20 points, and Blunt, who had 12.