By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — Winning seven games this season, the McAlester Buffaloes have already done better than they did last season.
When they face the East Central Cardinals tonight in the regional semifinals at Bishop Kelley, the Buffs will try to do what no boys’ basketball team has done since 2010: win a playoff game.
“The guys that are out there are the guys we’re going to count on,” Buffs coach Chris Zike said. “I just feel like they’re really, all of them, buying into their role a little better, and it’s important to them. It’s important to these seniors. It’s been four years now since we’ve ever won a playoff game, and they want to do that.”
The Cardinals enter the postseason with an 11-10 record and a No. 10 ranking in Class 5A. Freshman point guard Burke Putnam runs the offense, working with senior shooting guard Quantel Givens and senior small forward DC Pitts.
“He’s very athletic,” Cardinals coach Lynnwood Wade said of Pitts. “He can jump. He just plays hard. This year, he’s been able to shoot 3s, and he’s been able to get to the bucket.”
Wade added that Givens and Pitts are “interchangeable,” with Givens able to knock down outside shots. Pitts, meanwhile, is one of the team’s best defenders and plays his position as both a 3-guard and a small forward.
Moving to East Central’s frontcourt, junior power forward Jeff Pittman is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 17 points per game, according to Wade.
“He pretty much can do it all, also,” Wade said of Pittman. “He can shoot it from outside, he can post, he can get to the rim.”
Junior center Jonathan Johnson rounds out the starting five at center. Wade said Johnson “pretty much does what we need him to do.”
Zike said that on film, Pittman and Pitts appear to be East Central’s most dangerous shooters. Zike described the Cardinals as “athletic” overall.
“They have one good guard (Pitts) and a good forward (Pittman), and then there’s a lot of good athletes and role-players around them,” Zike said.
Both Wade and Zike are in their first years running their respective basketball teams. Wade said he’s tried to keep the Cardinals focused on being in the right position and not giving up easy plays.
“If you stay basic and you stay fundamental, you’ll win games,” Wade said.
Part of that approach means not adjusting his team’s approach from game to game. Both Zike and Wade said they’ve scouted the other team, but they differed in how to use that information.
“We’re going to concentrate on trying to stop those two (from) being able to beat us,” Zike said. “We know that from this point on, pretty much, I think we’re going to have better basketball players than several other teams, but (the) athletic ability part, they’ll probably be more athletic than us.”
“We’re going to play back-to-back if we win, so to go in and change our scheme overnight, it’s hard,” Wade said.
The Buffs have battled injuries since the start of 2014, but Zike said the team is healthier now than it’s been in weeks. The Buffs have beaten just one 5A team this season — Ardmore on Feb. 21 — and their regional tournament will take place at Bishop Kelley in Tulsa, the same location where their season ended in 2013.
“They want to go make a point to everyone that they are as good as anyone else in 5A,” Zike said of his team.
“We’re not playing them. They’re having to play us.”
To get to Bishop Kelly High School in Tulsa, take the Indian Nation Turnpike 35 miles to US-75 N, then after 46.4 miles exit onto I-44 E/OK-66 E towards Claremore/Joplin. Drive 5.6 miles, then take exit 230 toward Sheridan Road/41st Street S.
Merge onto East Skelly Drive, then take a sharp left onto East 41st Street. Drive 0.3 miles, turn left onto South Hudson Avenue and then take your first right onto East 36th Place.
Bishop Kelly is at 3905 S. Hudson Ave and will be on your left. The basketball gym is on the high school’s campus.
McAlester faces East Central tonight at 6:30. A win would mean a regional championship game against either Bishop Kelley or Nathan Hale and an automatic spot in next weekend’s area tournament.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.