By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — The McAlester Buffaloes started Friday’s game in exciting fashion, mixing high-speed offense with feisty defense and solid rebounding.
The Buffs couldn’t sustain their energy past halftime, however, allowing the Ardmore Tigers to come back and eventually steal the win.
Anthony Willis’ 15 points led a second-half surge for the Tigers, who overcame a 9-point deficit in the third and then beat the Buffs, 74-68, at Bob Brumley Gymnasium for McAlester.
“Last year as a sophomore, over at Duncan we played a triple-overtime game, and he had 42,” Ardmore coach Mark Wilson said of Willis.
“He is an offensive threat.”
Down 43-34 midway through the fourth, Tariq Woods began Ardmore’s comeback with a layup, then Willis knocked down two free throws to make it 43-38 Buffs. Playing far more aggressive defense than it did in the first half, Ardmore then forced a steal, and Keyshawn Brown knocked down his team’s only 3-pointer to make it a 2-point game.
McAlester guard Todd Dawkins found Keaton Slater for a layup and Eli Boyle drained a free throw to push the lead back to 46-41, but Tristan Rogers later drained a layup and drew a foul.
Rogers missed the free throw, but Ardmore came away with the offensive rebound. Jerod Gregoire then floated one in for a 4-point play that put Ardmore up 48-47 late in the third — the team’s first lead of the game.
Dawkins retook the lead with two free throws, but O.J. Walker tied the game 49-49 with one of his own. Jalen Erving put McAlester up 2 with a jump-shot, but Ardmore tied the game with a layup, then Marvin Johnson stole a pass and laid it in to put Ardmore up 53-51 heading into the fourth quarter.
Wilson said his Tigers typically don’t use their full-court defense early in the game, as referees tend to call more fouls early on. But once the Tigers went to the press in the second half, it proved very effective in frustrating McAlester’s guards and forcing turnovers.
“We played really poorly, offensively, early,” Wilson said. “A lot of that was just our inability to do anything on offense. And then offense lets you down, and you don’t play hard on defense.”
“Later, I was a lot more pleased with our offensive execution than I was early,” Wilson said.
The Buffs and Tigers traded points through the early minutes of the fourth until Erving’s 3-pointer put the Buffs up 60-57. But referees called a taunting foul on Erving after the play, giving Willis two technical free throws, and Willis made both.
Because of the technical, Ardmore retained possession after the free throws, and the Tigers went up 61-60 on a pass from Willis to Woods. Willis then ran a perfect backdoor cut for a layup that made it 63-60, and the Tigers maintained their lead through the rest of the game.
“My fouls, it just made play harder,” Willis said. “I got a little frustrated.
“We were down, so we just had to come out in the second half and play a little harder.”
The loss spoiled a night that began with a 13-2 run by the Buffs. Dawkins took a pass from De’Angelo Rhone and drained a 3-pointer on the first possession of the game, then Rhone put back an offensive rebound to make it 5-0 Buffs.
A steal by McAlester led to Boyle finding Dawkins on the fastbreak, then Texas Pascale finished the Buffs’ next possession with a nifty crossover move that led to a layup and a 9-0 lead.
Carlos Coppage finally got the Tigers on the board with a jumpshot, but Erving found Slater for a layup on the opposite end. McAlester then drew an offensive foul and Dawkins scored a layup to make it 13-2 Buffs.
“We jump out on them early, and instead of keeping the pressure up, we relax and we’re not as aggressive as we were,” Buffs coach Chris Zike said. “We have to keep that aggressiveness through the entire game.”
Dawkins led all scorers with 29 points. He shot 11-for-13 from the foul line.
“Zero just killed us from the line,” Wilson said of Dawkins, who wears No. 0 on his jersey. “He’s a really good player, really hard to guard, but we just kept sending him to the line (in the) second half.”
With the win, Ardmore improved to 3-1. McAlester fell to 3-3.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.