By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — When the McAlester Buffaloes knock down shots, they’ve shown they can hang with even ranked Class 5A teams.
But when the Buffs’ shooting goes cold, wins can be pretty tough to come by.
McAlester’s scoring dropped drastically after the first quarter, allowing the Deer Creek Antlers to come back and beat the Buffs 62-53 on Friday at Bob Brumley Gymnasium in McAlester.
“They scored 21 points in the first quarter,” Deer Creek coach Matt Bailey said of McAlester. “That’s probably the second most we’ve given up this year in a single quarter.
“We finally started tightening up our defense. We stopped letting them have wide-open 3s, we made them work more, made them take tougher shots, and eventually it started working towards our favor.”
Though Todd Dawkins’ layup put McAlester up 35-34 early in the third quarter, Tyler Haddock’s 3-pointer gave Deer Creek a lead it never relinquished. Haddock knocked down two free throws to extend the lead, and though Jalen Erving knocked down a 3-pointer for the Buffs, Elyjah Clark knocked a 3-pointer down on the opposite end.
Brett Valentine’s free throws then put Deer Creek up 44-38. Valentine scored 15 for Deer Creek, shooting 7-for-8 at the foul line.
With the Antlers still leading late in the fourth, McAlester had to foul to stop the clock, and Valentine’s free throws kept the Buffs from getting on any kind of a scoring run.
“I just don’t think about anything else,” Valentine said. “I just kind of clear my mind and focus. ... When the crowd is just getting all up in my business, I have a lot more motivation to just hit it and silence them.”
Making the most of Senior Night, Buffs senior center De’Angelo Rhone almost single-handedly brought the Buffs back in the third quarter. He scored off a pass from Texas Pascale, then grabbed an offensive rebound on McAlester’s next possession, drew a foul and sank both free throws to cut the lead to 44-42.
Valentine sank two free throws and Clark hit another 3-pointer for Deer Creek, but Rhone scored off a pass from Austin Taylor to cut the lead to 49-44. Rhone finished with 6 points, doing all his damage in a stretch of no more than four minutes in the third quarter.
“Really did a great job,” Buffs coach Chris Zike said of Rhone. “Really competed hard, really played hard, was really active around the glass.”
Zike added, “We go play like that, a lot of times we’re going to win. I’m so proud of the guys and their effort all night long.”
Rhone’s layup turned out to be McAlester’s last basket until midway through the fourth quarter. The Buffs’ outside shooting went cold, and their inside game broke down beneath the giant arms of Deer Creek center Conner Avants.
Avants also scored back-to-back baskets following Rhone’s layup to give Deer Creek a 9-point lead. A head taller than McAlester’s tallest player, Avants scored 24 and gave the Antlers an unstoppable presence in the low post.
“Whenever I’m going to make my move, I don’t duck my shoulder, because they’re going to take a charge,” Avants said. “Most of the time I just turn and do hooks over them, or I catch, face up and take them to the rack after I face up.”
Avants’ size also repeatedly forced McAlester’s defense to collapse on him, leaving outside shooters like Clark open for 3-pointers. Defensively, Avants cleanly blocked shot after shot, getting called for just two fouls.
“Conner’s really special because yeah, he’s 6-6 (in height), but he has all the tools with it,” Bailey said of Avants. “He has great hands, he has great vision, he has great moves, (and) he can put the ball on the ground.”
Two free throws from Dawkins made it a 5-point game late in the fourth, but Avants scored on the opposite end, then Valentine scored a layup late in the game to push the lead to 57-49. Despite combining for 25 points, Erving (15) and Dawkins (10) missed three 3-pointers in the final minute of the game.
McAlester’s offense exploded for 21 points in the first quarter, with Erving’s fastbreak layup putting the Buffs up 10-9 with 3:30 left in the first. Clark knocked down a 3-pointer for the Antlers, but Eli Boyle sank a free throw, then Erving’s 3-pointer put the Buffs up 14-12.
Haddock’s layup eventually tied the game 16-16, but Zach Baugh knocked down a 3-pointer, then Erving banked one off the glass and in as the first quarter expired.
Dawkins’ layup put McAlester up 23-16 early in the second. Erving’s layup made it 30-22, but the Antlers closed out the half with a 13-3 run, with Avants, Valentine and Noah McGraw doing all the scoring.
With the win, Deer Creek improved to 13-8. McAlester fell to 6-14.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.