By BEN JOHNSON
Chad Walker and Doyle Rowland were in full-on gamble mode on Saturday night. Both the Tahlequah and Muskogee coaches, respectively, had critical decisions to make with their most important players in late foul trouble.
For Walker, it was whether to leave Randee O'Donnell in. Rowland pondered if he should take Kelsey McClure out.
Walker sat O’Donnell for a brief period, and Rowland rolled the dice and left McClure in the contest.
“It was a little bit of a gamble,” Rowland said, “but that’s basketball. You have to be able to pick your poison. We can either put her on the bench, and you know you’re going to go down. Or you can put her on the floor and gamble, and hope she doesn’t pick up that fifth.
“We picked the poison, and we came out OK on it this time.”
Yes, they did.
McClure was the steady hand for the Class 6A No. 9 Lady Roughers, as they bounced back from a fourth-quarter deficit to knock off Tahlequah, 61-54, in the championship game of the UKB Tiger Invitational at the TMAC.
For 5A No. 10 Tahlequah (3-1), it was a game reminiscent of last year’s Class 5A regional title game against Bishop Kelley, where the Lady Tigers controlled much of the game only to fall in the end.
“Very disappointed,” Walker said. “I think our biggest issue was just miscommunication.”
That, and missed free throws were damaging down the stretch. The Lady Tigers — who also missed seven point-blank shots throughout the game — finished 4 of 10 at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.
“Bottom line is if we just hit some free throws, fix a couple of communication problems,” Walker said, “we probably win that game. But it was a great learning experience for the girls.”
Muskogee (3-1), which trailed by as many eight in the fourth quarter, chipped away and eventually went ahead for good on Mari Jackson’s rebound and putback with a little more than three mintues to play.
“We knew all we had to do was hit a basket and stay close,” Rowland said of a game that featured 13 lead changes and five ties. “At halftime, I told the girls, ‘we’re not going to blow this team out; it’s going to come down to the fourth quarter, and it’s going to come down to who wants it the most.’ And we did.”
For three quarters, Tahlequah used a combination of Whitney Wright, Lindsay Wade and Randee O'Donnell to deny McClure the basketball. The Oral Roberts signee did have eight points through the first 24 minutes, but had minimal impact.
That changed in the fourth quarter.
McClure, despite picking up her fourth foul with 7:44 left in the game, notched nine points in the final period. She ended up leading all scorers in the game with 17 points, and she was also named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“That was part of the communication problem,” Walker said. “Whoever is guarding her is not supposed to sink off and help the other girls. It’s just some things that we’ll fix.”
O’Donnell, All-Tournament selection, was stride for stride with McClure through three quarters, but never generated any offense in the fourth period. O’Donnell finished with a team-high 14 points while grabbing four rebounds.
Jhonett Cookson added 13 points for the Lady Tigers, and Casey Beaston (another All-Tournament selection) chipped in with 10. The Lady Tigers finished 18 of 49 from the floor and were out-rebounded 42-24.
Muskogee’s other scorers in double figures were Alexus Wilson (an All-Tournament choice) with 14 and Jackson with 10. Muskogee was 26 of 60 from the field but went 10 of 19 in the fourth quarter.
The two clubs traded leads back and forth during the early stages, with Muskogee going on a small run to claim a 9-4 advantage after being down 4-2.
Tahlequah, though, behind six points from Cookson, would end the first period in a 17-17 tie.
The Lady Tigers then led much of the second quarter behind O'Donnell's all-around performance. The junior guard helped Tahlequah eventually garner a 28-21 edge with four points, two rebounds and three assists in the quarter.
Muskogee 61, Tahlequah 54
Musk 17 9 9 26 — 61
Tah 17 11 12 14 — 54
Muskogee (3-1): Kelsey McClure 17, Alexus Wilson 14, Mari Jackson 13, Tillman 7, Carter 6, Rozell 4.
Tahlequah (3-1): Randee O’Donnell 14, Jhonett Cookson 13, Casey Beaston 10, Wright 9, Girdner 4, Wade 3.
SOYLA 78, Tahlequah 46 (boys)
Dalton Cunningham had 15 points, but it wasn’t enough as Tahlequah was routed by SOYLA (Save Our Youth Leadership Academy — out of Tulsa), 78-46, in the third-place game of the tournament.
Will Carlile added 10 for the Tigers (1-3).
Allan Prosper led SOYLA with 21 points.