State Bound: Dean, Harjo lead Panthers to crush challenger in Area Championship

Okemah basketball team maintains winning streak now at eight games heading into State Tournament next week

By Joshua Allen
ONL Staff Reporter

The Okemah Panthers continue their trek towards a State Championship, advancing comfortably past Oklahoma Union in the finals of the Area Tournament Friday in Checotah. 

Okemah Panther players and coaching staff pose for a photo with their just-won Area Champions plaque after defeating Oklahoma Union 69-49 in the Area Championship game Friday in Checotah (Joshua Allen/ONL Staff Reporter)

Okemah’s basketball boys have yet to be defeated since the playoffs began … they’ve actually not lost a game in over a month — the Area Championship making for eight wins and counting since beating Seminole February 1. 

The Panthers haven’t received an “L” on the books since the end of January.

And now they’re on their way to the Big Show in high school basketball, the State Tournament. 

After winning through Regionals, all the Panthers needed to do in order to get closer to the coveted State Title, to get to the big tournament leading up to that Title, was post a win in Game 4 of the Area Tournament.

Seemed easy enough for the young Panther b-ballers.

As if no doubt or worry had ever existed in their minds, the confident young Okemah players pointedly and with perceived purpose marched past their only Area opponent — a dazzling performance, no doubt, for those who had traveled to watch.

The final buzzer sounded, barely audible over the roar of Panther fans … barely audible over the whoops and hollers, the excitement, the loud congratulatory chatter of the players as they rose off the bench victorious. 

The final score … Okemah: 69, Oklahoma Union: 49.

Panther junior Cade Dean put in all but two of his 25 points in the first three quarters, dropping one bucket in the beginning of the fourth quarter before reserves took the floor in the wake of a growing Panther-lead. 

In what has become typical of Dean this season, the starting guard hit five shots from deep. He scored 10 points in the first half, 15 in the second. Three of Dean’s downtown balls fell through the net in the third — an explosive quadrant that saw him score 13 in that quarter alone. 

CD Harjo dropped in five field goals and one three, effectively scoring in every quarter, putting in 13 total points — two in the first quarter, five in the second, four in the third, two in the fourth. 

Harjo’s consistency in scoring each quarter mirrored his performance — the senior forward making plays for others if it weren’t he that took the ball to the basket.

The young Panther guard, Kurtis Wilson — usually coming off the bench as one of the Panthers’ ‘sixth men’ — also had a standout performance on both offense and defense, continuing his modus operandi of stepping up in these playoffs, tacking on eight points throughout the game. 

Matt Fullbright — a player that has this season proven to be a strong, solid force for his team, hitting the floor with hustle that either scores points or helps make the way for points to be scored by a Panther — took the Area opponent down low and into the paint to drop in six points in the first three quarters. 

Freshman point guard and explosive playmaker Kaiden Bear — not typically himself the big scorer but usually the one that gets him the ball — had a good night, scoring five points and racking up more than several assists. 

Brayden Lee came off the bench to put in four points to go towards the win, while Aaron Little and Ethan Hodgens had three each and Wacey Williams contributed two. 

Though scoreless, freshman point guard Jameson Ross also had time on the floor where he lead his team up the court on offense, wisely dishing the ball when necessary and calling plays from the top of the key. 

Elijah Harjo and Jaden Harjo also took the floor, providing support instead of points in this bout. 

Defensively, the Panthers held their opponent to less than 50 total team points, stifling Oklahoma Union’s two top scorers to only 10 points each. 

From the tip-off, there wasn’t much to deduct to arrive at a Panther victory. The momentum was in their favor. They led in points throughout the game, though the first two quarters they kept only a single-digit deficit between themselves and Oklahoma Union. By the third and fourth quarters, though, they had more than doubled that deficit to a double-digit lead through the final buzzer.

At the end of the first quarter, the score was 16-11, Okemah. At halftime, 34-28. The end of the third, 53-37. And, as if to add a cherry on top, the boys increased their lead to 20, and the fourth quarter ended at 69-49. 

The Panthers now head to the State Tournament, starting Thursday, March 7 in various locations. 

As of early Saturday morning, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) had not released the 2019 Class 2A State Tournament Bracket, specifying times and locations for the teams.

State Tourney games for Classes 2A, 3A and 4A will be held at State Fair Arena, Mustang High School, Yukon High School, Edmond North High School, Southern Nazarene University and Oklahoma City University. The Panthers will start Thursday at one of these gyms.  

By Friday, the list dwindles to only three gyms: State Fair Arena, Yukon High School and Southern Nazarene University. And, finally, the teams left after the battles Thursday and Friday will play only at State Fair Arena Saturday, March 9 — the finale of which will be the crowning of a State Champion.

The Panthers will dive into the State Tournament pool boasting a 21-6 record and an eight-game win streak.

Check frequently www.okemahnewsleader.com for Class 2A State Tournament updates as Okemah makes its way towards bringing home the State Title. 

A win in the final game would give Okemah basketball two State championships in five years — the Panthers winning the Class 3A State Championship in 2014.  

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