By BEN JOHNSON
Tahlequah wasn’t about to let Claremore pick up its first victory of the season on Friday night.
Facing a winless Claremore club, the Tigers came out swinging en route to a 71-37 thrashing of the Zebras at a celebratory TMAC on Senior — well, basically Lain Wright — Night.
“We talked in the locker room before came out about attacking them and playing good defense,” Tahlequah coach Mike Leafgreen. “You want to get the lead and give them any confidence.”
Safe to say, the Zebras’ enthusiasm was shot after roughly five minutes of game action. Tahlequah fell behind 2-0 on Brett Russell’s jumper — Claremore’s only make from the floor in the opening period — before rattling off 18 straight points to zap the Zebras.
“From the state, offensively, we were just clicking,” said Leafgreen, whose team made 6 of 13 field goals in the first quarter, which led to a 20-of-48 effort from the floor in the game.
“Defensively, we didn’t hit all of our assignments, but we played as a team. We definitely had huge energy, and it’s the most energy we’ve had for a complete game.”
Will Carlile, who finished the game with 13 points, got the Tigers (8-15, 5-7 Metro Lakes Conference) rolling early with three 3-pointers in the opening quarter. From there, Wright took over.
The senior point guard attacked the rim at will in the second period, and scored 10 of his game-high 19 points during the eight-minute span.
“Huge effort,” Leafgreen said of Wright, who finished 4 of 11 from the floor but did most of his damage at the foul line where he was 10 of 13. “It’ll sink in when everything is said and done — hopefully in a few weeks, three weeks — I can’t begin to describe what he’s meant to this program. It’s been so fun to coach him. I’ve told him and his family more than once that he’s one of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached. He makes this fun because of his work ethic and his relentlessness.”
With Wright’s help, the Tigers opened up a halftime lead of 33-16, which would continue to grow as the game progressed.
For Claremore (0-22, 0-12), Hunter Garroute led the way with seven points. He was one of 11 Zebras to score at least one point.
The loss capped a horrendous regular season for Claremore. Barring a monumental upset of 5A No. 2 Memorial on Friday night, the Zebras will have endured the program’s first winless season since the mid 50s.
Tahlequah will begin playoff action Friday at Coweta when it takes on 5A No. 14 Chickasha.
“I think we’re in a good spot,” Leafgreen said of his team’s outlook. “...If we can get by Friday night with Chickasha — they have two really good players that can score — but if we can get by that, 5A is so wide open. If you get past the top three or four teams, there are so many that are the same. If we get past (Chickasha), we’re in a good spot to where we could play a team like Bishop Kelley to get to the state tournament.”
Tahlequah (boys) 71, Claremore 37
Cla 4 12 9 12 -- 37
Tah 21 12 13 25 -- 71
Claremore (0-22, 0-12): Hunter Garroute 7, Landers 6, Joyner 4, Do. Murphy 3, Caton 3, Hammack 3, Lauer 3, McCaughan 3, Russel 2, Williams 2.
Tahlequah (8-15, 5-7): Lain Wright 19, Will Carlile 13, McMillan 9, Dick 7, Cunningham 6, Garcia 4, Smith 3, Craig 2.