Panthers place 6th in Tournament of Champions
By Justin Scrimshire
ONL Sports Reporter
The Panthers traveled to Tulsa the day after Christmas to participate in the prestigious Tournament of Champions, held at the Mabee Center on the campus of Oral Roberts University. This year’s tournament contained a stacked bracket of the very best in high school basketball.
Booker T. Washington (#1 Class 6-A), Del City (#1 Class 5-A), Tulsa-Memorial (#2 Class 5-A), Heritage Hall (#2 Class 4-A), Millwood (#1 Class 3-A), Okemah (#7 Class 2-A), Garber (#4 Class A) and Duke (#1 Class B) all converged in what promised to be a clash of the titans.
Okemah kicked off their portion of the tournament Thursday night, Dec. 26 against Tulsa-Memorial. The Panthers got everyone’s attention pretty quickly after jumping out to a 16-14 lead in the first quarter. Tulsa fought back and took a 34-23 lead going into halftime and extended their lead even more by the end of the third quarter, 35-50.
The Panthers mounted an exceptional comeback during the fourth quarter, limiting Tulsa to just 6 points, but ultimately the gap was too wide to close in the final minutes and Okemah lost the first round, 48-56.
On Friday, the Panthers faced off against Garber in a contest that was tightly contested throughout. The first quarter saw both teams tied 10-10 but the Panthers had gained a 5-point advantage by halftime, leading 26-21.
Okemah extended their lead by another three points heading into the fourth, 37-29, but Garber fought back, taking the Panthers all the way to the wire. In the end, Okemah clung to a 43-42 victory and a shot at the consolation championship on Saturday against the Duke Tigers.
The Panthers got off to a good start against Duke and led 13-10 at the end of the first quarter. Duke locked it down on defense and held Okemah to just six points in the second quarter and the game went into halftime tied, 19-19.
Both teams exploded offensively in the third quarter. Okemah put 17 on the board but the Tigers responded with 23 of their own and took a 42-36 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Tigers tacked on another 18 points in the fourth and the Panthers fell short on points and got into foul trouble, ultimately losing the game, 48-60 and placed 6th overall in the tournament.
The Tournament of Champions proved to be an environment where classifications and rankings didn’t matter. The boys that played on this court had earned their right to be there. While the outcome wasn’t what the Panthers wanted, the experience will be invaluable as Okemah prepares for a run at the state championship.