By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Every year, there are two games Stillwater High School senior Rico Thompson circles on his calendar. Two games where he knows he’s going to have to step up his game — the games against Lawton Eisenhower.
Whether it’s the powder blue uniforms or the faces behind the uniforms, Thompson has had a knack for having big games against a team he played for as a freshman.
Thompson took it to a new level, scoring 27 points and 5 assists as the 15th-ranked Pioneers beat No. 5 Eisenhower 58-46 Saturday at the Pioneer Fieldhouse.
“I know all the players and stuff,” Thompson said. “I was playing with them a couple years ago. So going up against them is always special. It doesn’t matter what they’re ranked. We’re one of the best teams in the state and we showed it.”
“I just think Rico played a complete game,” Stillwater coach Michael Davis said. “He’s getting better every game and that’s what we need him to do — get better.”
Thompson may have been the star, but it was the little things that paved the way for Saturday’s victory. Things like junior Jared Dickey making the extra pass or junior Brett Budke battling against guys that were four inches taller, yet coming down with a team-high 10 rebounds.
“Guys like Jared Dickey, Brett Budke, Carson Teel, they all played a big role for us,” Davis said. “They did the other things and that’s what they have to do for us to be successful. I’m very proud of the way the guys played.”
Almost as soon as the game began, Stillwater (5-2) showed it wasn’t going to be intimidated by the taller, more athletic Eisenhower team. The Pioneers opened the game with an 8-2 run, parlaying that into a 19-12 lead after the first quarter thanks to Thompson’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
“Coach D just told me to get back to having fun and playing with a free mind,” Thompson said. “They gave me the ball and I made a good shot.”
The offense sputtered a little more in the second quarter, but Stillwater’s defense was there to answer the call. Budke, Dickey and freshman Jordan Brown forced Eisenhower to shoot from the outside by collapsing on the post to help Stillwater take a 25-20 halftime lead.
That lead didn’t last for long as the Eagles came roaring back at the start of the third quarter with a 13-5 run, taking its largest lead of the game at 33-30.
“We started relaxing and we settled for jumpshots,” Thompson said. “We weren’t going to the glass, finishing strong and finishing our shots. We got too complacent.”
It would have been easy for Stillwater to hit the panic button at that point. Instead, the Pioneers were able to calm down and pull themselves together thanks to a big 3-pointer by senior Caleb Watkins with 2:08 left in the third quarter, helping the Pioneers take a 42-38 lead into the fourth quarter.
“We just aren’t going to quit,” Davis said. “We’re not quitters. That’s not what we do. Caleb hit a big shot and it really got it going for us.”
Even when things got a little tight in the fourth quarter, Stillwater had no problem closing out Eisenhower — something that was a big concern for Davis after the Lawton game.
Aided a pair of free throws by Thompson after a technical foul with 3:51 left in the game, the Pioneers ended the game with a 10-2 run to complete the weekend sweep over two of the three Lawton schools.
“They realized that they made (the Lawton) game closer than what it needed to be,” Davis said. “They wanted to come back and close this one out the right way. I’d say they did a pretty good job of that.”
With the win, Stillwater will have the week off before traveling to Bishop McGuinness Friday. Davis said the team’s confidence is at a high right now, saying that a win over the Irish would be the perfect way to go into the Christmas break.
“It’s huge for us because this was a home game,” Davis said. “We don’t want to lose any games at home. ... (Bishop McGuinness) is our last game before Christmas break and we want to close it out the right way. That’s a huge game for us too because it’s at their place. If we play the way we’ve been playing the last couple of games and come back to practice ready to work at it, I think we’ll put ourselves in a position to do something.”