By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — Deer Creek’s full-court defense never settled into one alignment. Sometimes the Lady Antlers seemed to be running a 1-2-2, sometimes it looked like a 2-2-1, and sometimes it seemed like a hybrid of the two.
Whatever the defense’s exact name, it put the McAlester Lady Buffaloes in an early hole from which they never recovered.
The Lady Antlers dominated the first four minutes of Friday’s game, eventually beating the Lady Buffs 53-26 at Bob Brumley Gymnasium in McAlester.
“Our defensive strategy always stays the same,” Deer Creek coach Totsy Manning said. “We’re going to play really solid man-to-man defense and press you a lot. ... We really just like to make you guess. And then whenever you’ve stopped guessing and make a certain pass, then we want to trap you out of that.”
McAlester turned back Deer Creek on the Lady Antlers’ first two possessions, but Bayli Blanchard grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on their third, putting Deer Creek up 2-0. That allowed Deer Creek to set up its press, and the defense produced immediate results, with Dakota Vann stealing the ball and laying it in.
McAlester turned over its next possession, and on the opposite end Blanchard scored again, this time off a pass from Shae Scheffler. Deer Creek guard Whitney Jones then came up with a steal, then later took an inbounds pass from Scheffler and drained a 3-pointer.
McAlester missed on its next possession, then committed another turnover. Scheffler then scored off a pass from Jones for an 11-0 lead.
“We had 10 turnovers in the first quarter, and that’s a killer,” Lady Buffs coach April Burns said.
“They played very physical, man-to-man defense. They were all up all over us. It was hard for us to run any kind of an offense.”
Lacey McLain’s jump shot finally got McAlester on the board with 3:42 left in the first, but Deer Creek’s defense made it tough for McAlester to find any kind of shooting rhythm Friday. McLain scored 12 points, but no one else scored more than 5, reflecting a season in which the Lady Buffs haven’t had a consistent second scorer behind McLain.
After McLain’s jump shot, Abbey Renner sank two free throws, then Jones came away with a steal and found Emily Gillis for a layup. Along with scoring 11 points, Jones was often the front defender in Deer Creek’s press, taking on McAlester’s ball-handlers one-on-one.
“I think my specialty is defense, so I’m always comfortable playing one-on-one,” Jones said. “I think our defense is always playing well. I think that’s one of the best things about our team, is our defense. I think that’s how we win games a lot.”
McLain hit another jump shot, but Blanchard scored to maintain the 13-point lead. Shattee Robinson scored for McAlester, but Jones laid one in as the first quarter expired for a 19-6 Deer Creek lead.
Deer Creek outscored McAlester in each subsequent quarter.
“When we were trying to press them, they were just putting all kinds of people in the middle, and it was really like our press wasn’t really present,” Burns said. “We played good defense, we played good half-court defense, we got them to take some first shots that weren’t great, but we have to still work on our rebounding. That’s our thing that’s been a struggle for us all year.”
Vann scored 12 for Deer Creek, tying McLain for the game high. Taller than any of McAlester’s posts, Vann had no trouble scoring in the paint, but she also had no problem taking on ball-handling responsibilities and playing more like a guard.
“We’re interchangeable, so they have to be able to play all different positions,” Manning said. “We don’t want to keyhole them into just being a 1, a 2 or a 3 (guard). They need to be able to do all positions on the court, which makes us harder to defend.”
Though overall the Lady Buffs struggled to stop the Lady Antlers, Lady Buffs senior Maddie McGowan had a solid game on Senior Night. McGowan finished with two steals and three deflections that led to steals by other Lady Buffs, and she often looked like McAlester’s most active defender, chasing down loose balls and deep rebounds when no one else would.
“She kind of got, I think, in (Blanchard’s) head,” Burns said of McGowan. “She was rattling her a little a bit, but she worked really hard on defense.”
Deer Creek, the No. 3 team in Class 5A, improved to 17-5 with the win. McAlester fell to 7-13.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.