By Matt Goisman
COLLINSVILLE — When the McAlester Lady Buffaloes changed up their defense, it killed Bishop Kelley’s inside game.
When the Comets changed their defense, it freed up McAlester’s forwards.
Forwards Lacey McLain and Shattee Robinson both scored 12 points, leading the Lady Buffs past the 13th-ranked Comets, 46-39, in Thursday’s regional semifinals at Collinsville High School.
The win guaranteed McAlester a trip to the area tournament next weekend. McAlester faced Collinsville in the regional championship Saturday at Collinsville. For Saturday’s results, see McAlesterNews.com.
The Lady Buffs trailed 25-22 to start the second half, leading to the switch to a 2-3 zone defense. The strategy worked immediately, as Taylor Compton stole away the Comets’ first possession of the third quarter, scored a fastbreak layup and made it a 1-point game.
“When we were in our man (defense) in the first half, they were just killing us by driving and getting us in foul trouble,” Lady Buffs coach April Burns said. “So we had to really go into a zone and just try to pack it in the middle and try to take care of that high post area.”
The Comets missed on their next possession, then April Calistro put McAlester up 27-25 with a 3-pointer. Two free throws from Madeline McKenzie and a third from Kenra Poarch again put the Comets back up, but Robinson later grabbed an offensive rebound, drew a foul and sank both free throws for a 29-28 lead.
Robinson grabbed another offensive board on McAlester’s last possession of the third, again drawing a foul and sinking one free throw for a 30-28 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Robinson finished with four rebounds and four steals to go along with her 12 points.
“Some of those snatches she had on the ball were incredible,” Burns said of Robinson. “It looked like she had sticky on the tips of her fingers, pulling that ball in. ... She was on most every loose ball, so I was really proud of her.”
A deep jump shot from Katelynn Creekmore early in the fourth quarter pushed McAlester’s lead to 4. Miranda Rauner drew a foul and shot 1-for-2 for Bishop Kelley, but on the opposite end Creekmore found McLain in the low post for a layup and a 34-29 lead.
The Comets had been using a 2-3 zone in the first half to contain McAlester’s forwards. But in the second half they switched to a 3-2, sending more Comets to the perimeter and leaving two posts to guard McAlester’s forwards.
“They were giving up our inside game,” Burns said. “So that’s why we kept saying, ‘We have to get the ball inside,’ because they weren’t really respecting our inside game.”
Following a Bishop Kelley miss, McLain grabbed an offensive rebound, drew a foul and drained both free throws for a 36-29 lead.
“We tried to drive as much as we could and just keep going up there, even though we got hammered,” McLain said.
“Since they didn’t give us the respect of the post, we just kept drilling it in.”
McAlester next scored on a give-and-go from Baylee Dawkins to April Calistro and back to Dawkins for a layup that made it 38-31. The Comets tried to mount a comeback late, but with no real outside shooting — Calistro’s three 3-pointers matched the Comets’ total as a team — they could only make back a point or two at a time.
“McAlester switched to that zone, and we struggled attacking with it,” Comets coach Jade Allison said. “We weren’t very confident with getting the ball inside, which we needed to do. When somebody goes zone and you don’t hit the first couple (of) outside shots, that rim just gets tighter and tighter.”
McKenzie did hit a 3-pointer that cut McAlester’s lead to 40-37 with 1:32 left in the game. But the Comets missed their next shot, then Compton drew a foul and shot 2-for-2 at the line to push the lead to 42-37.
Dawkins stole the Comets’ next possession and got one free throw out of the fastbreak, then sank three more in the final 11 seconds of the game to keep the Lady Buffs ahead until the buzzer sounded. Burns said the Lady Buffs avoided the four-minute stretches of bad play that have plagued them throughout the season.
“We’ve been talking about that for the past two weeks, about not having that little lull, and they did a really good job,” Burns said. “They played hard for four solid quarters, and they really wanted this win.”
Comets forward Leah Colon led her team with 12 points. Using their taller, at-times stronger forwards the Comets built a 16-9 lead in the first quarter and also quickly drew six fouls against the Lady Buffs.
But the Comets never drew that seventh foul that would’ve put them in the bonus and given them free throws. McAlester outscored Bishop Kelley 13-9 in the second and making a second-half comeback by the Lady Buffs much more manageable.
The Lady Buffs improved to 8-15 with the win. Bishop Kelley finished its season 6-17.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.