By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It wasn’t exactly a picture-perfect game for the Stillwater High School boys basketball team, but in the end the Pioneers got the one thing they were looking for — a win in the first round of the regional playoffs.
Brett Budke scored 19 points, while Rico Thompson added 16 — including 8 of 10 from the free-throw line — as the Pioneers beat Tulsa’s Nathan Hale 78-59 Friday at the Pioneer Fieldhouse.
“It feels great to bounce back,” Budke said. “We knew we would. We had a great week of practice and it feels good to be back on track.”
The Pioneers (17-6) overcame a slow start as Tulsa Hale scored on its first six possessions of the game to take an early 12-6 lead.
But after suffering some jitters early, Stillwater finally started to settle down and play its style of basketball by answering with an 8-1 run to take its first lead of the game.
“We definitely had some nerves,” Budke said. “When you get out on the court your breath kind of gets taken away from you. It’s like the first game of the year. But once you settle down and start hitting shots, you feel a lot more comfortable.”
Leading 21-19 after the first quarter, Stillwater expanded the lead to seven halfway through the second quarter before Hale’s DaVaunta Thomas kept the Rangers within striking distance. Thomas finished with a game-high 30 points, but the Pioneers managed to take a 36-27 lead into halftime.
Budke’s 3-pointer with 6 minutes left in the third quarter finally provided the spark Stillwater was looking for. Others like Jared Dickey and Carson Teel joined in the mix as the Pioneers ended the third quarter on an 8-3 run before Thomas’ half-court shot at the buzzer trimmed Stillwater’s lead to 54-41.
“I told them at halftime that we’re better than what we just played,” Stillwater coach Michael Davis said. “That’s the nice version. Really, I didn’t say too much. Coach (Kyle) Love and coach (Derrick) Verner had already talked to them. Offensively, everything we were doing was fine. Our problem was defense.”
Defense wasn’t much of a problem in the fourth quarter as Hale’s fatigue started to show. Even with Thomas firing at will, Stillwater’s legs looked fresher as Budke and Dickey pulled down key rebounds when it seemed as if Hale might make a run.
And while the Pioneers did struggle from the free-throw line — going 13 for 22 — Thompson, a senior, iced the game late by knocking down his last four from the line.
Along with Thompson and Budke, Teel and Dickey each finished with 10 points. Dickey also had four rebounds in his return after sitting out the last month and a half with an injury.
“I knew the team needed me, so I tried to get back as fast as I could,” Dickey said. “I knew they liked having me back, so I was just glad I was able to help out a little.”
It may not have been a game Davis will watch over and over again, but knowing that the Pioneers will live to play another weekend will ease Davis’ mind.
Or perhaps not.
“It’s a relief off our shoulders and get that W, but that’s not what we’re playing for,” Davis said. “We’re playing to try to win the regional. We have it at home and we truly believe the way to go to state is through your own home.”
The Pioneers will get that chance when they face Tulsa Union at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Pioneer Fieldhouse.