By Joshua Allen
ONL Staff Reporter
Not a single Panther fan was happy when the final buzzer broke the monotonous roar of cheers from the stands in Edmond-North High School’s gymnasium at the conclusion of Okemah’s first-round bout against Minco in the 2019 OSSAA State Basketball Tournament.
Despite a pretty tight game throughout, the young Panther b-ballers, in the end, came up just short of a ‘W,’ losing by 11 points, 42-53.
The game saw the two teams battle fairly closely up until the final few minutes — no seeming specific cause, mistake or bad play being the cause.
The Panthers were actually pretty dominant in the first half — a bit out of character for a team that this season was usually more explosive and effective in the second half.
They were on top of Minco by eight points after the first quarter and leading by five at halftime.
Minco, however, outscored the Panthers 9-18 in the third quarter before going on to hold them to only five total points in the fourth. Because the Panthers had a lead at the half, they stayed close. Eventually, though, it slipped away.
Momentum is an interesting force, and that’s what changed the game Thursday in Edmond. A little more than halfway through that final period, with the game tied at the time — the momentum shifted, flowing to Minco’s advantage as shots wouldn’t seem to go through the hoop for the Panthers.
It was undoubtedly not for lack of effort. The Okemah team fought back hard to no avail, unable to redirect that unseen force — balls that seemed would have usually fallen for Panthers well acquainted with scoring just didn’t go through the net.
Slowly, steadily the reality for Okemah fans set in as the clock ran closer and closer to zero — their cheering squelched by their team’s season ending so close to that golden trophy ball.
The Panthers and Head Coach Devin Terry took it in stride, though with visible disappointment present, accepting the defeat and holding their heads up as they shook hands with their opponent.
“In the locker room, I told the guys that this has to be a learning experience,” Terry said. “We are such a young team, and now we know what it takes to get here and that we have to play our best game to win it.”
“Today was obviously not our best game,” he said.
With only two seniors on the Panther roster, Terry has players returning next year that have now been to the big show, and, he said, “They will remember this feeling and what kind of season it took to get here.”
The highly defensive game saw fewer points scored than usual for both teams, as well as fewer fouls committed.
Brayden Lee lead the team in scoring with 10 points, while the Cade Dean, the Panther usually leading the pack in points, was held to only eight.
Kurtis Wilson also put in eight; Wacey Williams had seven; Kaiden Bear had six; and CD Harjo had three.
It wouldn’t be prudent to let those scoring totals per player reflect their performance. The team seemed to be clicking on all cyliners, but many of their shots — shots that would have usually fallen — were off the mark.
Harjo — he and Matt Fullbright being the only seniors on the team — especially put in a notable performance, more so in hustle and play-making for others than scoring himself.
If that wasn’t noticed by those watching, it was certainly noticed by the team’s head coach.
“(CD Harjo) really stepped up today,” Terry said among the bustling of exiting fans after the game in Edmond. “When he saw his team needed him, he stepped up, but he’s smart. He didn’t force anything … when the team needed him to score, he scored. If he saw he needed to get someone else the ball, he dished it out.”
“He will be greatly missed (next year),” he added with emphasis on ‘greatly.’
Terry, though in good spirits, said he was “a bit upset” and “a little disappointed” to end the season with a loss, as opposed to taking the State Trophy back to Okemah.
The loss in the first round of the State Tournament made for Terry and his team’s first loss since February 1, breaking a seven-game winning streak.
As for Minco, after ousting the Panthers, the team went on to lose in the next round to Rejoice Christian at Fairgrounds Arena in Oklahoma City. Ironically, Minco lost the contest by an 11-point deficit, 44-55, eliminating them as a State Championship contender and ending their 2018-2019 season.
A quarter-by-quarter breakdown of Thursday’s first-round State Tourney game between Okemah and Minco would look like this:
Panthers: Q1-18, Q2-28, Q3-37, Final-42
& Minco: Q1-10, Q2-23, Q3-41, Final-53