By Matt Goisman
McAlester’s boys’ basketball team had shown glimpses of its potential in its first six games, but glimpses weren’t enough. The Buffaloes needed to play four solid quarters to end their season-opening losing streak, and they finally put it all together at the Panther Holiday Tournament in Siloam Springs, Ark.
McAlester beat Prairie Grove, 74-69, on Friday.
“I thought we played a lot harder,” Buffs coach Jerry McCormick said Saturday. “I thought we played a lot more confident.”
McCormick said that the first half of that game featured at least seven lead changes. The Buffs dove for loose balls and deflected many passes, showing a defensive intensity they hadn’t consistently shown in their first six games.
“We’re never going to step on the floor and have one handed to us,” McCormick said. “This year, we’re going to have to out-work our opponent every night to have a chance to win.”
On offense, McCormick said the Buffs got away from their early-season tendency of settling for outside shots. Instead, they began to work the ball inside, especially to center Darrion Brown, who scored 17 on Friday.
Brown’s post play in turn made it easier for McAlester’s guards to get open on the perimeter. Zach Skimbo scored 14 points, as did Jalen Erving, while Eli Boyle scored 12.
“I was proud that we dug down and found a way to win,” McCormick said. He added that he’d still like to see better rebounding and communication between the players.
“You have to do that consistently for four quarters and sustain that,” he said. That’s what we’ve been trying to make those kids understand.”
With the win, the Buffs improved to 1-6, having lost to Siloam Springs on Thursday, 67-31. They played Wagoner on Saturday.
The Lady Buffaloes also lost Thursday, falling to Prairie Grove, 71-39. But like their male counterparts, the Lady Buffs responded well, beating Shiloh on Friday, 71-53.
“They were working hard,” Lady Buffs coach April Burns said. “They were playing with a different kind of intensity than what they played the night before.”
Burns attributed Thursday’s loss to a combination of a slow pace and a lack of energy and focus by her players. Burns said her players’ lack of effort bothered her more than the loss, and she told the team as such that night.
“To me they’re always in charge of how hard they worked,” Burns said.
The team seemed to understand the connections between effort and results and came out Friday much more energized, Burns said. The defense’s full-court trap resulted in 26 deflections and 15 steals, and it never let up even when the starters came off the floor.
That defense fueled the Lady Buffs’ transition game, leading to numerous easy lay-ups and points.
“The defense is going to start our offense,” Burns said. “It doesn’t start with offense, it starts with your defense, and they really started buying into that yesterday”
Kaleisha Johnson led the Lady Buffs on Friday with 28 points, while Meredith Saunier scored 21. Heather Brozovich returned as the Lady Buffs’ starting power forward and scored 12.
Brozovich also allowed the Lady Buffs offense to work “from the inside out,” Burns said, meaning that Brozovich’s play in the post helped free up the outside shooters. McAlester shot 8-for-16 from three-point range Friday.
Burns said she’s had trouble finding a consistent replacement for Brozovich, especially after Bailey Dawkins got hurt. Should Brozovich stay healthy, Burns said, she’ll start at that position for the rest of the season.
“We’re playing Heather like she’s good to go,” Burns said of Brozovich. “She just makes really smart decisions on offense, and she’s a great help defender”
The Lady Buffs improved to 3-4 with the win. Burns said the key to avoiding another three-game losing streak like the one that occurred earlier this season will be putting the same kind of energy into everyday practices that they put in against Shiloh.
“I know that they felt differently after the two games, and that’s what it’s going to come down to,” Burns said.
“Playing hard half the time in 5A basketball does not win games.”
The Lady Buffs finished their tournament against Gentry on Saturday.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org
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