By Joshua Allen
Just as a few games have been already this season, the Panthers were responsible for another couple close and intense games of hoops last week, facing off against Wewoka Tuesday and Bethel Friday.
The Panthers lost the first game of the week but took a victory in the second.
In Wewoka, the host team came out and took a quick lead after the first quarter, putting Okemah starting the second quarter behind by eight, 8-16.
Maybe the Panthers thrive under the pressure of playing from behind … or, in the very least, they thrived for a time in Wewoka Tuesday.
The Okemah boys fought their way to the goal and dropped shots from the outside, leading to a 22-point quarter compared to Wewoka’s 16, making up six points of the eight-point deficit.
The teams hit the locker rooms at the half with Okemah down by two – the score, 30-32.
In the third quarter, the Panthers again outscored their host by two points, successfully making up for the eight points they fell behind in the opening quarter.
The score was 47-47 to start the last period.
If the Panthers play best from behind, Tuesday night’s game saw Wewoka play best at the end.
The host team put up 21 points in that last quarter and held Okemah to only 11, thus resulting in a 10-point loss for the Panthers in this road contest … final score: 58-68.
After the game, Panther Head Coach Devin Terry began his comments by applauding the Panther opponent.
“They’re a really good team … I mean, that’s the first thing,” he said. “They have one win (before this game); they’re 1-5, but they have lost to five (state) ranked teams, so they are a really good team that a lot of people aren’t giving them credit for.”
As with Lady Panther Coach Will Seymour, Terry spoke of the environment at Wewoka, noting, “… it’s a tough environment to go to that place and try to win a game.”
He then, as the leader of the team, took on a bit of responsibility for Tuesday’s loss.
“We didn’t do a very good job of executing our scouting report,” Terry said. “We knew that they were going to crash the boards hard, and we continued to give up a lot of offensive rebounds.
Despite knowing that about Wewoka’s rebounding abilities, Terry said the Panthers “gave up 14 offensive rebounds, which led to 20 points.”
“That loses you ball games,” he said. “We also gave them 25 free throws, and they made 18 of them, so … we beat ourselves, settling for jump shots, instead of attacking the rim, and that loses you ball games.”
“We just didn’t play with discipline tonight,” he concluded.
At Bethel, things went more in Okemah’s favor, which got combined with good individual performances from a number of young players for a 12-point victory over the Wildcats, 55-43.
“I thought we did a pretty good job … we kind of have some growing up to do,” Terry said. “We had some big help from our freshman, Kaiden Bear and Jameson Ross. Ross was moved up from JV.”
“(Ross) has been a surprise these last two games coming off the bench,” he continued. “Now, he may have only scored two points tonight, but he did a lot of little things that fans wouldn’t realize.”
As for his team’s performance as a whole, the coach had positive comments to make about his squad — more so the way they played later in the game than in the beginning.
“All in all, we did a pretty good job,” he said. “We did a lot better job in the second half of not just settling for jump shots and attacking the rim.”
“That’s something we have been trying to preach to them,” he continued. “Once we started doing that, the whole game started looking a lot better.”
For quite possibly the first game of the season, sharpshooter Cade Dean did not lead the Panthers in scoring. Bethel held him to only eight points.
The game against the Wildcats saw CD Harjo lead the Panthers with 15 points, followed by Bear and Wacey Williams, each with 10.
“CD showed what he can do, and he has to do that more often … attacking the rim,” Terry said. “And then, that gets Cade going more. Cade is not the kind of guy where he can go get his own shot, he relies on others to get him going.”
In conclusion and with a Friday night victory in the bag, Terry said, “It’s a full team effort. We’re young and have learning to do, but we’ve got a full team effort here, and I think they’ll do good.”
With the win against Bethel, the Panthers moved up in OSSAA rankings to #11 in the state in 2A, according to OSSAArankings.com.
They traveled to Prague Tuesday, Dec. 18 and will head to Broken Bow Friday, Dec. 21. Broken Bow, now ranked #17 in Class 4A, are what Terry said is a “really tough team.”
They have beaten the boys once this year, taking a win over the Panthers and handing them a second place finish in the finals of the Okemah Invitational Tournament.
Okemah maintains a record of 5-2 as of the time of this article’s writing and publication.