By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — The MacArthur Lady Highlanders put sophomore guard Yoshika Thomas at the top of their fullcourt press defense, letting her swarm McAlester ball-handlers in the backcourt and put her team on the fastbreak.
With Thomas locking down the defense and Paj Jackson running the offense, the Lady Buffaloes just couldn’t hang with the Lady Highlanders.
The Lady Highlanders led almost the entire game, knocking down seven 3-pointers and beating the Lady Buffs, 59-40, Saturday at Bob Brumley Gymnasium.
Though MacArthur never trailed, McAlester kept the game close through the first quarter, and Baylee Dawkins’ layup cut MacArthur’s lead to 24-18 midway through the second. But Kiaji Sawyer (team-high 13 points) knocked down a 3-pointer for MacArthur, kickstarting a 16-4 run that lasted into the third quarter.
Lacey McLain put back an offensive rebound for the Lady Buffs to make it 27-20 MacArthur, but on the opposite end Jackson sliced her way through the paint and scored to push the lead back to 9. MacArthur’s defense took over at that point, with Thomas coming away with steals on three McAlester possessions in a row.
“She’s a track star, so we put her out there and let her run,” MacArthur coach Danny Garza said of Jackson. “Her rule is just, wherever the ball is at, go to the ball and try to trap.”
MacArthur couldn’t score off the first two steals, but the third eventually led to Jackson finding Lauren Henry for a 3-pointer. Jackson then grabbed a steal on McAlester’s next possession and scored off the fastbreak.
McAlester missed, then Thomas scored to make it 36-20. McLain scored off another offensive rebound, and MacArthur went into halftime up 36-22.
“Right before the end of the second quarter, there were about seven turnovers in a row that gave them about 10 points,” McAlester coach April Burns said. “It was just a big blow.”
MacArthur pushed its lead to 16 with two free throws from Sydnee Stolz early in the third, then Henry later knocked down a 3-pointer. Khalia Austin then stole another pass for MacArthur and laid it in to make it 43-22 Lady Highlanders.
Dawkins’ layup finally ended the run, but McAlester never found any offensive consistency. The turnovers that plagued the Lady Buffs in the first half diminished after halftime, but better ball-handling didn’t lead to more points, and McAlester still trailed 47-26 heading into the fourth quarter.
McLain opened the fourth quarter with a jump shot off a pass from Dawkins. Scoring 18 for McAlester on Saturday, McLain continues to be her team’s best scoring threat, and across this season she’s looked more and more confident, aggressive and versatile as a shooter.
“Lacey puts a lot of pressure on herself, so she’s had to learn how to manage that and how to control it,” Burns said of McLain. “But Lacey has stepped up her game. That child will try to do anything that you ask her to do.”
Dawkins scored 12 for McAlester, knocking down two 3-pointers. Jackson scored 10 for MacArthur, and her ability to completely collapse McAlester’s interior defense made life far easier for outside-shooters like Sawyer and Henry.
“Paj, she’s a four-year starter for us,” Garza said of Jackson. “She’s matured, and she has a leadership role, and they know that everything kind of runs through her.”
Though McAlester got a steal on the opening possession of the game, the turnover didn’t lead to points, and on the opposite end Henry knocked down a 3-pointer for a 3-0 lead. Sawyer’s 3-pointer made it 6-2 MacArthur, then Thomas scored off an offensive rebound.
Stolz later knocked down another 3-pointer for MacArthur, but Shattee Robinson answered with a layup for the Lady Buffs. McLain banked one in to cut the lead to 4, but a layup by Sawyer and two free throws from Jackson pushed the lead back to 17-9.
MacArthur led 19-13 after the first quarter, and Sawyer finished the first possession of the second quarter with a 3-pointer from well behind the 3-point line. Dawkins knocked down a 3-pointer, but Austin sank a layup on the opposite end to push the lead to 24-16.
MacArthur outscored McAlester in each of the first three quarters, with the Lady Highlanders giving up just 4 points in the third.
With the win, MacArthur improved to 7-8. McAlester fell to 6-12.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.