By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — The Durant Lions played two games last week despite the snow. The McAlester Buffaloes, on the other hand, had to take 10 days off from competition as they waited for the snow to subside.
Small wonder, then, that the Buffs looked flat in a 74-61 loss to the Lions on Tuesday at Bob Brumley Gymnasium.
McAlester’s flatness showed itself in many ways, including an 8-for-19 performance at the free throw line, with many misses bouncing harmlessly off the front of the rim. The Buffs also struggled to rebound the ball cleanly on defense, the ball often deflecting out of bounds and staying with the Lions, and the Lions seemed to be the team grabbing loose balls.
The Buffs’ 3-point shooting looked sharp — four players combined to knock down nine shots from behind the arch — but that may have been it.
“It’s tough to just practice for 10 days,” Buffs coach Chris Zike said. Of a second quarter in which the Buffs gave up a 6-point lead, he added,
“We maybe got a little tired, didn’t move it as well, didn’t move the ball as well, didn’t execute as well — just the little things from not playing.”
With the Buffs up 17-11 late in the first quarter, momentum began to swing Durant’s way thanks to an impressive steal by Skye Lowe, the team’s regular starting point guard but a reserve Tuesday. Buffs guard Jalen Erving tried to bring the ball up the court against Lowe, but near the halfcourt line Lowe got his hand between Erving and the ball, immediately secured the steal, drove to the hoop and scored to cut the lead to 17-13.
Lowe went on to lead the Lions with 19 points. Also guarding Erving on the last possession of the first, Lowe crossed up Erving enough to get him to fall down twice.
“He gets frustrated pretty easy, so I just kinda used that to my advantage,” Lowe said of Erving. “Got into him, chirped a little bit. ... He got angry pretty quickly, and when you’re mad, you don’t play well.”
Lowe’s jump shot made it a 2-point game early in the second quarter. Lowe eventually tied the game 21-21 with another jumper, and though Erving’s 3-pointer gave McAlester the lead again, Tyler Shade later went on the fastbreak off a Lions defensive rebound and drew a foul.
Shade missed both free throws, but McAlester couldn’t control the defensive rebound, and the ball went out of bounds and stayed with Durant. Zac Cater then scored a layup, drew a foul and sank the free throw to tie the game.
Austin Taylor’s layup gave McAlester one last lead, but Cater’s put-back on an offensive rebound tied the game, then Lowe gave the Lions the lead for good with a layup. Erving missed two free throws that would’ve tied the game, then Durant center James Donelan sank a layup and got a free throw out of it to give the Lions a 31-26 halftime lead.
Though Buffs center Keaton Slater held the much-taller Donelan in check in the first quarter, Donelan became tougher and tougher to guard as the game went on. He scored 15 points and also made it almost impossible for the Buffs to score in the paint, blocking multiple shots but committing just one foul.
“James is a big help, because if we don’t do our job up front, if we get lazy, we kind of just let him do his thing up front and cover for us,” Lowe said of Donelan. “He’s the best shot-blocker in the state.”
McAlester’s defense struggled early in the third quarter, with the Lions scoring on five of their first seven possessions to go up 44-37. Eli Boyle’s jump shot eventually cut the lead to 48-45, but two free throws from Cater and 4 points from Donelan pushed the lead to 54-45, and the Buffs never got close again.
“I don’t know if we defended a little better or if they just stopped shooting, but we played hard,” Lions coach Jason Wilkerson said. “We were able to score well, and everybody played a really solid game all around.”
Cater and Will Engle also cracked double digits for the Lions, with Cater scoring 13 and Engle 15. Erving led the Buffs with 20 points, 12 of which came in a fourth quarter in which the Buffs scored 20 points and looked to be shaking off the rust of their 10-day break.
Todd Dawkins and Eli Boyle both scored 10.
“Durant had a very good game plan coming in,” Zike said. “They weren’t going to let Todd Dawkins beat them.”
With the win, Durant improved to 8-11. McAlester fell to 6-13.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.