By Joshua Allen
ONL Staff Reporter
Thursday saw the start of this year’s Okemah Invitational Basketball Tournament, featuring teams from all over the region in a variety of classes, depending on the size of the school district.
Tourney games started that morning, leading up to the Lady Panthers taking the court for the game just prior to the Panthers. The Okemah (2A) teams played the final two games of the day, both taking on 4A Hilldale to conclude the first round of the annual invitational tournament.
The Lady Panthers made no joke about getting a win in that first round. Lady Panther jump-shots were falling through the hoop as their Lady Hornet opponents fell behind. In the first quarter alone, Okemah hit seven field goals — five of those from behind the arc. They made two free throws and missed two free throws, making for an end-of-first-quarter score of 21-12.
Hilldale could not keep up. Their shots were not falling with consistency. The Lady Hornets were stifled, scoring only five points in the second quarter. The score was 30-17 at the half with the Lady Panthers on top at the half.
As a quick note, aside from the tip-off — when the score was 0-0 — through that brief amount of time when the first few baskets fell for both teams, Hilldale never got closer than their end-of-first-quarter deficit of nine points.
Up by 13 when the second half started, the Lady Panthers kept driving at the basket, steadily releasing an offensive attack behind a steadfast and sturdy defensive performance. Hilldale attempted to rally, but they were not allowed any such foothold for a scoring-run on Okemah’s home court.
The Lady Panthers kept their opponent backpedaling, scrambling to stop their steady scoring.
Scrambling or not, Hilldale could not stop the Lady Panthers.
After what was one of their highest scoring quarters of the year (21 points in quarter one of this game), the Lady Panthers tacked on 24 points in the third quarter alone, more than half of what Hilldale would end up scoring the whole night. The Lady Panthers scored more points in two quarters — the first and third — than Hilldale scored in all four periods.
So … the final quarter was routine for a big lead. The Okemah girls played to protect it. They played carefully and tried to avoid foul trouble. When it was over, the final score was 67-42 — thus resulting in the Lady Panthers celebrating a victory.
The Panthers, directly following their fellow Okemah classmates, played the final game of the night. It, too, was against the 4A Hilldale Hornets.
The game was not unlike the Lady Panthers’ game, in that it did end in victory for the Panthers. However, this game was intense and basically stayed with a point or two between the teams for much of the game — at least the first three quarters and the first half or so of the fourth.
With as little as 7:12 left before the game was over, Okemah was up by two, 53-51.
From about that point, though, the Panthers couldn’t be stopped. They would eventually end the game with the brightly lit scoreboard reading 80-64 in their favor.
Five Okemah players saw double-digit scoring. Cade Dean led the way with 26, followed by Kaiden Bear, who put up half as many points with 13. Matt Fullbright and CD Harjo both had 12, and Wacey Williams scored 10. Other scorers were Brayden Lee with five and Kurtis Wilson with two.
Dean is becoming known to be a lights-out shooter, but Thursday’s game saw him knock down seven deep shots. That’s the most three-pointers in one game for him this season.
Amazingly, one of the guards for Hilldale — Hunter Parson, number 11, who mainly guarded Dean — also put in seven shots from behind the arc, and, almost matching Dean shot-for-shot, also scored 26 points to lead the Hornets in scoring. Only one other Hornet, TJ Maxwell, saw double-digit scoring with 16.
Okemah played hard throughout, and the gym was ramped up with excitement as the game progressed, especially until about halfway through the final quarter when it seemed like the two teams were basically scoring one right after the other — tit for tat, back-and-forth.
The matching of three-pointers by each team was exciting for the crowd, but, eventually, it led to Okemah looking at the game from behind, ending the third quarter down by three, 48-51.
It didn’t last. Panther Head Coach Devin Terry called a timeout to squelch a Hilldale scoring run, resulting in a change in the tide. The Panthers came back strong, and before anyone knew it, the Panthers were up by as many as 10, then 12, then more, until the game ended with the Panthers leading by 17. The final score was 80-64.
A quarter-by-quarter score breakdown would look like this:
Q1 – Okemah: 19, Hilldale: 15
Q2 – O: 35, H: 30
Q3 – O: 48, H: 51
Q4, Final – O: 80, H: 64
Both Okemah’s teams will play the final two games Friday, as well. The time slots have been moved up two hours, due to weather concerns, meaning the Lady Panthers play around 5 and the Panthers around 6:30 that evening.
Stay tuned for updates and photos from Friday’s games, along with the times and teams in the Invitational’s finals Saturday.