By BEN JOHNSON
Lain Wright and A.J. Surritte went blow for blow in front of a raucous crowd at the TMAC on Friday night.
Wright won the battle with a game-high 28 points, but Surritte won the war by draining a go-ahead shot with 11 seconds left, which propelled Skiatook to 63-60 victory in the Metro Lakes Conference opener for both clubs.
“That felt great,” said Surritte, Skiatook’s 6-foot-4 forward who led the Bulldogs with eight rebounds and 26 points on 10 of 23 shooting from the field.
“Some [shots] weren’t falling, but one finally did when it counted.”
That’s for sure.
With time winding down in regulation, Surritte — who, before the last couple of seconds, had been limited to only four points in the second half — dribbled to right and sank a running jumper to break a 60-60 tie. He, then, drained a subsequent free throw after getting fouled to give his club a three-point lead — it’s fourth of the game.
“No. 55 (Wright) switched off of me, so I knew I had to go score,” Surritte said, breaking down the Bulldogs’ final possession. “I knew I had to go to the bucket.”
After Tahlequah called a timeout with six seconds remaining, the Tigers’ Dalton Cunningham and Wright missed a pair of 3-point attempts as time expired.
“We had some good looks and had, statistically, our best shooters taking those shots,” said Tahlequah coach Mike Leafgreen, whose club fell to 0-1 overall and 0-1 in league play. “But they just didn’t fall.”
Ironically, Skiatook took the lead on a possession where the Bulldogs were granted a timeout that they didn’t even want.
“The referee misunderstood and gave us a timeout anyway, even though I wasn’t calling for a timeout,” Skiatook coach Shane Branscum said. “But, we used it to draw up a play for A.J., and he was a man among...he was a senior tonight.”
Surritte’s go-ahead shot came 66 seconds after Tahlequah tied the game up on a Jake Vader free throw. However, the Tigers, after forcing the fourth tie of the game, were unable to take their fifth lead of the game when Vader air-balled his next free-throw attempt.
The possessions that followed Vader’s free throw were turnovers for both clubs. Skiatook lost control of the ball and gave it away on a tie-ball, and Tahlequah handed the ball right back when Wright traveled with 37 seconds left.
The Tigers were lucky to even be in the game after squandering a 14-12 advantage after the first quarter. The second quarter was all Skiatook, outscoring Tahlequah, 27-9, thanks to Surritte’s 15 points and the Tigers’ 10 turnovers in the period.
“First half we didn’t play Tahlequah defense,” Leafgreen said. “We didn’t do anything that we had talked about in pregame, anything we had worked on for three months. I told the guys after the game, ‘great second half, but you can’t spot anyone in 5A 16 points. We can’t spot our eighth-graders 16 points, because they’ll still beat us.’”
The second half was controlled by Tahlequah, with the Tigers clawing back in the contest with a 20-13 third period. With nine points in the third quarter, Wright got Tahlequah back in the game.
“The tale was the second quarter; we didn’t do things we wanted to do, offensively and defensively,” said Leafgreen, whose club shot 33.3 percent (20 of 60) from the floor and 15 of 20 (75 percent) from the foul line in the game.
“In the third and fourth quarter, if we had played like that from the start, we would have been fine. Defensively, we made every shot tough. Offensively, we attacked the rim.”
Vader, who was in foul trouble early on, contributed all 13 of his points for the Tigers in the second half. Will Carlile and Cunningham scored six points apiece but combined to shoot 4 of 22 from the floor.
Skiatook’s only other scorer in double figures was Jesse Haynes with 18 points. Garrett Massey added nine points for the Bulldogs (2-0, 1-0).
Skiatook 63, Tahlequah 60
Skia 12 27 13 11 -- 63
Tah 14 9 20 17 -- 60
Skiatook (2-0, 1-0): A.J. Surritte 26, Jesse Haynes 18, Garrett Massey 9, Jake Surritte 6, Estes 2, Lester 2, Knight 1, Upton 1.
Tahlequah (0-1, 0-1): Lain Wright 28, Jake Vader 13, Carlile 6, Cunningham 6, Alberty 4, Dick 3.