STILWELL Thursday night at Blue Valley High, Ponca City (Okla.) boys basketball coach Alan Hibler got into the holiday spirit during his team’s 57-52 loss to Lawrence High.
The only thing Hibler was missing was the red bucket and familiar sound of a ringing bell.
“We’re like the Salvation Army,” Hibler was overheard telling his assistant coaches after a stretch of four turnovers in five possessions turned a 49-46 lead into a 55-49 deficit in the final two minutes. “We’ll just give you something.”
Lawrence High (2-0) had a little to do with that.
After playing at three-quarters speed for most of the game, the Lions turned it up a notch in the fourth quarter. Throughout the second half Ponca City attacked Lawrence’s zone defense with patience and precision. But with the game on the line, LHS coach Chris Davis told his team to turn up the heat. A passive zone turned into relentless half-court traps and full-court man pressure. Easy trips up the floor for Ponca City turned into Wildcat turnovers. And LHS senior Dorian Green, who led all scorers with 22 points, made sure those turnovers turned into points for the Lions.
“We were really trying to play at a slower pace than we wanted to,” Davis said. “It was the first game of a three-day tournament and we wanted to ease into it. But when we switched from our contain defense into an aggressive, trapping defense things started to go our way.”
As it did in its season opener against Washburn Rural, LHS jumped off the bench with a ferocious first quarter. Behind 4-of-11 shooting from three-point land, combined with 1-of-15 shooting for Ponca City, Lawrence High opened up a 12-4 lead after the first quarter.
Behind some hot shooting of their own, the Wildcats cut the lead to three — 27-24 — at the half and tied things after three quarters at 36-all.
Ponca City opened the fourth quarter with a 5-0 run but watched the Lions’ pressure defense lead the charge for a 21-11 LHS run to close the game.
“If you look at the whole game, that was definitely the biggest part,” said Green of the Lions’ defensive intensity in the fourth quarter. “We just looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s go,’ and decided to take it to them as hard as we could.”
On a couple of occasions, for Green, that meant trying to finish a breakaway with a slam dunk in traffic.
“Coach Davis told me afterwards to go ahead and lay it up and take the points,” Green said. “But I think going for it like that just sends a little message and shows we have some toughness.”
Green was not alone in that department. Despite standing just 6-4, senior Lance Kilburn led the Lions in rebounding during the opening round of the 13th annual Blue Valley Shootout with eight boards. Kilburn also chipped in 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting.
Amid all of the fast hands and sneaky steals, junior Marcus Ray delivered what may have been the defensive play of the game with a monster block of Ponca City’s Mitchell Mongold with 2:49 to play.
In all, despite shooting 41 percent from the floor and playing without senior forward Chebon Dawes, who missed the game because of an ankle injury, the Lions found a way to grind out a victory.
“We’ll take any and every win we can get,” Green said. “Each one just sets us up for the end of the season.”
Next up, the Lions enter a second-round showdown at 8:30 tonight against Blue Valley, which routed Pembroke Hill, 88-32, in its opening game.