By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Stillwater High lost its first home game at the hands of reigning state champion Union in the championship game of the Class 6A-3 regional tournament.
But the Pioneers didn’t go down without a fight — as is the moniker of a Michael Davis coached squad. SHS overcame a slow first half and forced overtime, where the Redskins did just enough to pull away for a 76-71 victory.
“The guys are disappointed because they lost, they know they let one slip away, so nobody is more hurt right now,” Davis said. “I hurt for our guys. … They competed to their utmost. I couldn’t be prouder of coaching the Pioneers. They left everything they had out on the floor.”
Nothing terribly new for the Pioneers was the fact that they were undersized against their opponents Saturday. The Pioneers couldn’t quite overcome the size of the Redskin post players, who dominated the glass and got a combined 50 points from a pair of 6-foot-7 forwards in Jeff Mead (27 points) and Carson Meier (23).
“Our 6-1, 6-2 guys trying to fight their 6-4, 6-5, 6-7, eventually you’re going to have some breakdowns,” Davis said. “... It’s not an excuse. We’ve been dealing with size all year. We’ve just been better at blocking out than we did tonight. We just didn’t do a very good job of that. Everybody we play, we’re smaller than.”
While Union had the noticeable size advantage, and exploited it by running a zone defense, it fell upon the Stillwater guards to loosen up the zone by penetrating the paint — something they struggled to do in the first half.
But the Pioneers came out of the halftime break with more focus on attacking the zone and the effects were evident. Rico Thompson was able to score 22 of his game-high 35 points after halftime, and Carson Teel was able to get going from the perimeter with four 3-pointers in the third quarter alone to finish with 21 points.
“In the locker room at halftime, coach told us we weren’t being aggressive enough and needed to drive it more so,” Thompson said. “So he put the pressure on me and the other point guards to drive the ball and get other people involved — get easy pullups, open 3-pointers. Driving the ball just helps a lot.”
With Stillwater the aggressors in the second half, the Pioneers actually surged ahead by as many as 6 points with 3:50 left in regulation. But the Redskins went on a 10-4 run in the closing three minutes to send the game to overtime.
“We got open shots and were knocking them down, but they were just knocking them down, too,” SHS senior Caleb Watkins. “(Mead) went 0 for 7 his last two games and just went off tonight. They were just hitting every shot they were throwing up.”
Though the loss was tough to take, Stillwater’s season isn’t over yet. The Pioneers still advance to the area tournament, needing to win two games to reach state.
“That’s the important thing we need to do now, is just forget this game and move on,” Watkins said.
The Pioneers may be without a key cog next weekend, however. Senior point guard Braydn Murrell went down in the second half and Davis said it doesn’t looking promising for his return.
“Braydn got 8 assists tonight, so it’s going to hurt us because we lost him,” Davis said. “I don’t think he’ll be back and that’s going to hurt. Now we’ll be down to a seven-man rotation.
“But Braydn played his rear off and his a big part of what we try to get done. We’ll get it done now for Braydn. He’ll be our motivation. So we’ll push it for him.”