Never assume you have an open passing lane against the Ardmore Tigers. They’re so fast and so explosive that they can play several feet away, then burst in for a steal and a fastbreak opportunity.

The McAlester Buffaloes learned that the hard way, losing 62-41 in a game Ardmore controlled nearly start to finish Friday at Bob Brumley Gymnasium.

Ardmore, the No. 6 team in Class 5A, finished its regular season 16-5. McAlester, the No. 18 team, finished 11-12, winning its most games since going 14-8 for the 2011-12 regular season.

Ardmore’s full-court press defense began to pay dividends almost immediately, with Jerrod Hall coming up with a steal on McAlester’s second possession of the game. Keyshawn Brown knocked down a 3-pointer to put Ardmore up 5-3.

“What that press is designed to do is to steal the ball off the pass,” Ardmore coach Mark Wilson said.

“That’s what it’s done all year, is people just make passes that look like they’re throwing it right to us. If we’re picking off passes, then it’s working.”

The Buffs missed on their next three possessions. Brown grabbed a defensive rebound following that third miss, dribbled to McAlester’s foul line and knocked down a jumper.

The Buffs missed again, then Anthony Willis scored for a 9-3 lead.

Texas Pascale’s pass to Todd Dawkins produced a 3-pointer to cut the lead in half, but free throws from Willis, Marvin Johnson and Hall pushed the lead to 13-6. This began a trend of the Tigers scoring 4-6 points for for every 2-3 they allowed, never allowing the Buffs to build any kind of rhythm.

Jared Morgan’s floater for McAlester cut the lead to 13-8, but Chantz White’s layup answered later in the first quarter. Brown hit a jumper, then Johnson’s steal turned into a free throw for Brown that made it 18-8 after the first.

Ardmore went to the free throw line 23 times Friday and converted 16. McAlester went to the free throw line 10 times and converted six.

“They were a lot more aggressive than we were,” Buffs coach Chris Zike said. “We were very tentative, and they were very aggressive on both ends.

“Their zone really affected us. We really didn’t expect it, and they came out and they executed well.”

The Tigers maintained their fast tempo in the second quarter, again scoring about twice as often as they gave up points. McAlester guard Rashad Clark scored off a half-court pass from Jett Wood to cut the lead to 24-16, but Brown drew a foul and hit two free throws.

Ardmore came up with a steal on McAlester’s next possession. The Buffs stole the ball back but missed on the fastbreak, then White scored to push the lead to 28-18.

Dawkins got 1 point back with a free throw, but Ardmore went on a 7-0 run. Willis scored the first 6 on two layups and two free throws, then Johnson went 1-for-2 at the line to push the lead to 35-19 early in the third quarter.

“Defensively, we played well enough to keep the game under control,” Wilson said. “We didn’t play that great offensively in the first half, but we only gave up 19. So when you do that and you can hit any shots at all, you’re going to have the game in control.”

The Tigers outscored the Buffs in all four quarters. Willis led the game with 19 points, with Johnson scoring 15 and Brown scoring 11 for Ardmore.

Dawkins scored 16 in McAlester’s third-lowest offensive game of the season. The Tigers’ speedy defense kept Dawkins from taking over the game, and McAlester’s offense broke down without its leading scorer.

The Buffs’ best moment of the night came on the first possession of the game. Zike started his five seniors, including JV player Joseph Johnson and injured center Keaton Slater, and McAlester gained possession when the opening jump went out of bounds.

Pascale got the ball to Slater, and Slater knocked down a 3-pointer for a quick lead. Zike then called a timeout and replaced Johnson and Slater with regular starters Dawkins and Justin Whatley.

“That was the greatest thing that I’ve ever been a part of here at McAlester,” Zike said of Slater’s 3-pointer. “We just told him to jack it as soon as he touched it.”

The loss ended McAlester’s unbeaten home record. The Tigers also beat the Buffs 80-67 on Dec. 19 in Ardmore.

Contact Matt Goisman at mgoisman@mcalesternews.com.