McALESTER — Bitten too many times by 3-pointers in the first half, Frink-Chambers coach Lloyd Belt pushed his guards a bit farther towards the perimeter.
That slight defensive adjustment allowed the athletic Falcons to come back and win.
Frink-Chambers overcame an 8-point halftime deficit, eventually beating the Brushy Mountaineers 43-35 in the first-round of the Organization of Rural Elementary Schools Area Tournament on Saturday at Frink-Chambers in McAlester.
Frink-Chambers plays Woodall in the area championship tonight at 8 p.m. at Frink-Chambers. The winner of that game advances to the ORES state tournament.
“The defense, we turned it up that second half, and it made the difference in the ballgame,” Frink coach Lloyd Belt said.
“They hit some early 3s in the first half, and we were getting to those spots. Putting that pressure on them, they couldn’t hit the 3 anymore.”
Trailing 26-18 at halftime, the Falcons’ deeper defensive alignment produced immediate results, with guard Ryan Kelley stealing the ball, drawing a foul on the fastbreak and sinking both free throws. Rudy Fraire responded with a 3-pointer from Brushy, but Kelley later sank a free throw and then scored off another steal to make it 29-23 Brushy.
Jacob Amos shaved another point off the lead with a free throw, then Kelley again came up with a steal and laid it in to make it a 3-point game. Kelley finished with 13 points.
“I have some great athletes this year,” Belt said.
“That third quarter we turned it up speed-wise and got a lot of fastbreaks. I don’t think a lot of teams can keep up with our speed when we get out on the break.”
Frink forward Clayton Slater put back an offensive rebound on Frink’s next possession. Dillon Cheater (18 points) drained a 3-pointer for Brushy for a 32-28 lead, but the Mountaineers’ best shooter went cold after that, scoring no baskets and just one free throw through the rest of the game.
“They started really coming out on the 3-point shot,” Brushy coach Blaine Christopher said.
“We were hitting a lot of 3s in the first half, and then when they brought that zone out and they spread it out, they kind of nullified us.”
Frink reserve Zac Lerblance later came up with a steal and turned it into two free throws. The Falcons tied the game 32-32 with 30 seconds left in the third quarter when Tanner Rowland came up with a steal and got it to Amos on a fastbreak.
Frink guard Noah Cook’s 3-pointer broke the tie 48 seconds into the fourth quarter, and the Falcons never relinquished that lead. Cheater went 1-for-2 at the line on Brushy’s next possession, but later in the fourth Rowland blocked a Brushy shot and fired a fullcourt pass to Amos for a fastbreak layup and a 37-33 Falcons lead.
Amos led the Falcons with 14 points.
“A lot of times, he’s so athletic, his brain can’t keep up with his feet,” Belt said of Amos. “He’s so athletic. You oughta see him on a track field; he’s an amazing athlete.”
Frink blocked another shot on Brushy’s next possession, and though the play didn’t lead to any Falcons points, it kept the clock rolling and the Mountaineers frustrated.
Though the Falcons struggled with interior defense in the first half, fouling too much and getting boxed out too often, that improved along with their perimeter defense in the second half. With Slater leading the way, the Falcons allowed far fewer second-half offensive rebounds and turned their first-half fouls into clean blocks.
“We started fronting, or at least played to the side instead of behind, and he was a lot more physical that second half,” Belt said of Slater. “That was a game-changer, because they were getting the ball to the inside and working to the outside, and we stopped that.”
Rowland’s free throw made it 38-33 with 2:32 left in the game, then Frink’s defense stepped up again. Two guards double-teamed Jackson Brewer, and Brewer threw the ball right into Kelley’s hands, leading to a steal and a layup.
Brushy missed its next shot, and with the Falcons killing the clock with keepaway offense, the Mountaineers just didn’t have enough time to come back against Frink’s stingy defense.
“Tonight we shot the ball terrible, but we defended,” Belt said. “We realized we had to defend well in the second half, and we did.”
With the win, Frink-Chambers improved to 14-3. Brushy fell to 10-7 and plays Lukfata in the area consolation semifinal tonight at 6 p.m.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.