By Matt Goisman
CATOOSA — Both the McAlester Buffaloes and the Durant Lions play man-to-man defense. Both use speedy point guards to kickstart their offenses, and both compliment their point guard with three outside shooters and a tall center.
The two teams tried to do the same things Friday, but the Lions just did it better.
Skye Lowe and Zac Cater combined for 30 points, leading the Lions past the Buffs in Friday’s area consolation semifinal in Catoosa, 72-63.
“We’re at our best in a halfcourt setting, and they’re at their best in a fullcourt setting,” Lions coach Jason Wilkerson said. “It’s always our goal to dictate the pace of the game.”
Durant started Friday’s game much stronger than McAlester, the Lions outscoring the Buffs 13-2 in the opening five minutes of the game and leading 21-5 after the first quarter. James Donelan got Durant on the board with a jump shot, but Buffs senior Eli Boyle tied it with a layup.
Boyle’s basket came with 6:25 left in the first quarter, and McAlester wouldn’t score again until Boyle drained a layup, drew a foul and sank the free throw to make it 13-5 Durant with 2:21 left. In between those Buffs baskets, Cater, Skye Lowe and Tyler Stovall would combine to score 11 unanswered points.
“We just came out to play relaxed against a team that we’re used to playing,” Wilkerson said. “It’s a rival — you don’t have to talk them up much for that game. We just got off to a good start, and it really made a difference.”
Lowe’s jump shot put Durant up 4-2, and the Lions led the rest of the game. McAlester tried to fight their way back into the game in the second, with Keaton Slater scoring off an offensive rebound, Todd Dawkins hitting two free throws and Blakely Williams knocking down a 3-pointer.
But those two free throws would be Dawkins’ only points in the second. Unable to shake Durant defenders Stovall and Taylor Cox, Dawkins scored just 9 points all game.
Dawkins’ lack of scoring forced Jalen Erving (10 points) to take over as McAlester’s go-to scorer. Erving scored 11, hitting a 3-pointer late in the second quarter, and the Buffs trailed 35-23 at halftime.
“We were moving offensively and we competed harder on the defensive end,” Buffs coach Chris Zike said of the second quarter. “We didn’t just stand around.
“We didn’t come out to a good start, kind of stood around a little bit and had to fight back ever since. It was tough, battling, wanting to talk about trying to get those 50-50 loose balls, and it just didn’t go our way. We didn’t come up with enough of them.”
Having outscored Durant in the second, McAlester seemed to be building some momentum going into the second half. But Cater stole away McAlester’s opening possession of the third and scored in transition, then put back an offensive rebound on Durant’s next possession to make it 39-23 Lions early in the third.
Cater scored 14 for Durant. Lowe scored 16.
“Zac’s a leader of our team,” Wilkerson said of Cater. “He’s a bigtime player for us. He gets big rebounds; he gets big buckets. He’s always doing good things.”
Boyle led the Buffs with 14 points, and Texas Pascale scored 11. One of McAlester’s five seniors, Boyle played his last basketball game in a Buffs uniform.
McAlester’s other four seniors are Williams (7 points), De’Angelo Rhone (6 points), Austin Taylor (5 points) and Michael Stizza.
“Our teamwork started to bond together a little bit after the first (quarter),” Rhone said. “The first wasn’t very good. Coming out of the second, we tried to play a little harder, a little (more) together.”
While a disappointing end to the season, these Buffs still won their first playoff game since 2010. And with four Buffs starters - Dawkins, Pascale, Erving and Slater — all underclassmen, an even better 2014-15 season seems entirely possible.
“They have a lot of growing up to do — maturing, I should say — physically and mentally,” Zike said of his underclassmen. “That’s something we’re really going to work hard in the offseason to do.”
Durant swept the season series against McAlester, winning all three matchups. The Buffs lost by fewer points in each subsequent game against the Lions.
Durant improved to 12-12 with the win and played Deer Creek in the area consolation championship Saturday. McAlester finished its season 8-17.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.