Tahlequah picked up a much-needed win going into the holiday break when it took down Pryor, 38-35, on the road on Dec. 17.
Now, the Class 5A No. 12 Tigers hope to carry that over against 5A No. 11 Coweta when they resume play on Tuesday at the Tahlequah Multipurpose Activity Center.
The win over Pryor, who is currently ranked 14th in 5A, came after Tahlequah suffered consecutive losses to 6A No. 8 Jenks and Moore in the Cherokee Nation Businesses Tahlequah Invitational.
“The Pryor game was a big win for us,” Tahlequah head coach Duane Jones said. “We didn’t play great, but we still came out of Pryor, which is a tough place to play, with a win. We were pretty happy with our first semester as far as overall basketball. I thought we got better as a team every time we stepped out onto the floor, not only in games but in practice. The guys are just really coming together and they’ve bought in to what we want as a program.”
The Tigers, 4-2 overall and 3-0 in the Metro Lakes Conference, started the season with three straight wins against Skiatook, Grove and Bartlesville.
Senior guard Jaxon Jones is averaging a team-high 18.3 points and has twice surpassed 30 points. He finished with a season-best 33 against Grove and totaled 31 against Moore. Jones is shooting 51.4 percent overall from the floor and 57.6 percent from behind the 3-point arc. He also leads the team in steals at 2.5 per contest and is grabbing 4.3 rebounds.
“I’m happy with Jaxon’s play, of course I always want him to be more aggressive on both ends of the floor,” Duane Jones said. “He’s kinda doing what we expected from him. He’s putting a lot of pressure on the defense and getting other people open and scoring when he needs to. We just want him to keep evolving more as a scoring threat.”
But the players around Jaxon Jones have been impressive has well.
Junior forward Tanner Christian has been in double figures twice, including a season-high 15 points against Skiatook, and is averaging nine points. Junior guard Qua’shon Leathers led the Tigers with 11 points against Pryor and is averaging 6.7 points.
“Tanner and Qua’shon have both been able to give us great minutes,” Duane Jones said. “They’ve been really consistent in their play, they’re good defensive players, and they rebound well.”
Hayden Wagers, Kooper McAlvain, Simeon Armstrong Hunter Brinkley and Tyler Joice have also contributed with solid minutes.
“We’re trying to get some more guys to give us some more scoring, more consistent scoring,” Duane Jones said. “Those guys are playing good basketball for us.”
The Tigers have made their biggest strides on the defensive end. They’re limiting opponents to 39.8 percent overall shooting, 27 percent from 3-point territory, and forcing just over 20 turnovers per game.
“We’re really excited about our defense,” Duane Jones said. “We’re pretty much playing a straight man-to-man. We go into Pryor and hold them to 35 points and they probably average 65 a game. We took away the 3. We’ve had a couple of stretches where we haven’t played well on that end, but overall our defense has been really solid. We’re playing with a lot of effort and a lot of focus.”
Coweta will enter play with a similar 4-2 mark. The Tigers, winners in two of their last three games, are also 3-0 in conference play with wins over Grove, Skiatook and Glenpool.
“Coming into the season, I thought [Coweta] was one of the tougher teams in our conference,” Duane Jones said. “They have everybody back, they have some really good guards, can shoot it well, and they have some size. Really, they probably match up athletic wise with us as well as anybody in the conference.”