McALESTER — The McAlester Buffaloes have the physical skills necessary to compete with the best teams in Class 5A. But they’ve been inconsistent mentally at various points during the season, looking flat and unmotivated and consequently losing.
The Buffs face the Durant Lions in the area consolation semifinals tonight in Catoosa at 8 p.m. If any team should motivate the Buffs to play at their best, it should be the Lions.
“You ask any one of those kids, ‘Who’s your biggest rival,’ and they’ll say, ‘Durant Lions,’” Buffs coach Chris Zike said Tuesday.
“With us being able to play Durant, I feel like it really helps the cause about getting them ready.”
The Lions head into Area with an 11-12 record and the No. 19 ranking in 5A. The Lions are 7-6 against 5A teams this season, including 2-0 against the Buffs.
“Two starters, Texas (Pascale) and Todd (Dawkins), did not play when we went there,” Zike said. “And then the second time playing them was right whenever they were just getting back from their injuries. The ‘in-shape’ part wasn’t where it is right now.
For this playoff game, Zike said, “We have to come out early. I feel like we come out early and really play well early, you never know what’s going to happen then.”
To win and stay in the postseason, the Buffs will need to figure out how to crack 6-foot-9 center James Donelan. Donelan scored 15 points against the Buffs on Feb. 11 and almost single-handedly killed the Buffs’ ability to score in the paint.
“Offensively, we have to make it tough for him to catch,” Zike said of Donelan. “Defensively, he just alters a lot of shots.”
Three other Lions scored in double digits against the Buffs in that game, and Zike said the Buffs will have to rely on their man-to-man to contain the Lions’ many scorers. That includes starting point guard Skye Lowe, who scored 19 on Feb. 11 and proved almost impossible to shake on defense.