STILLWATER — Inola stood its ground Thursday night and Zach Elseman slammed the door in the face of the Cushing Tigers.
The Longhorns had a parry for every Cushing thrust in the fourth quarter, and the Tigers had many. But Inola had Elseman.
The 6-3 senior scored 17 points in the second half, not missing a single shot, and boosted the Longhorns up onto his broad shoulders.
He carried them right past the Tigers, 61-57, and into today’s second round of the Class 4A schoolboy basketball area tournament at Stillwater High School.
Elseman and the Longhorns won’t have much time to soak in the invigorating shower of victory. They return to the same floor at 3 p.m. today to take on Tulsa McLain in an elimination game. McLain survived an overtime period to turn back Dewey, 70-66.
Inola will puts its 19-6 record and No. 16 ranking up against McLain, 16-10 and No. 11.
Inola found itself in the “must-win” bracket after letting a one-point lead slip away in the final seconds at Vinita in last week’s regional finals.
Inola did not let that happen Thursday night.
And the Longhorns have Elseman to thank for that.
Cushing had erased a pair of six-point deficits in the third quarter to go up by 44-43 on a last-second basket by Vincent Willis.
In the opening 70 seconds of the fourth, Alex Weaver regained the Inola lead with a basket and Elseman expanded it with a traditional three-point play.
The Inola lead peaked at 53-46 before back-to-back three-point plays by Phillip Wilson pulled Cushing within one.
Elseman took an assist from Jared Cotton and stemmed the tide with a point-blank basket at 3:08.
Wilson answered for Cushing, but Elseman also came back again for Inola, making it 57-54 with 2:23 left.
For the last time, Cushing pulled within one, but at 1:57, Tyler Stone hit a pair of free throws for Inola.
Ten seconds later, Cushing lost possession and the Longhorns went looking for Elseman, holding a 59-56 lead.
A three-second call in the lane by the officials took the ball from the Longhorns at 1:28 and Wilson converted a free throw with 1:17 showing. He could have pulled the Tigers to within one, but he missed his second free throw — his only miss making seven straight.
Inola ran off 40 seconds with its delay game, and finally lost control with 39 seconds left.
Elseman rebounded a Cushing miss eight seconds later, and he converted a pair of free throws to ice things for the Longhorns.
Cushing missed its final three shots in the fading seconds.
Elseman finished with 20 points, making 7 of 8 field goals and 6 of 7 free throws. He also had six rebounds, one behind teammate Aaron Weaver.
For Cushing, Wilson put up 21 points, counting 7 of 12 from the field and 7 of 8 free throws. The 6-2 junior also had nine rebounds.
Cotton, who did not score in the fourth quarter, harvested 17 points, hitting 8 of 16 from the field.
Inola opened an eight-point lead in the first, but Cushing came back to tie twice in the second. Inola rebuilt its lead after that to eight before settling for a 26-20 halftime lead.
No more than six points separated the teams in the third, and there were two ties and three lead exchanges before the fireworks of the fourth began.
INOLA 61, CUSHING 57
Inola 16 10 17 18 — 61
Cushing 10 10 24 13 — 57
Inola — Elseman 20, Cotton 17, Stone 9, Alex Weaver 8, Feemster 5, Aaron Weaver 2.
Cushing — Wilson 21, Willis 11, Youngman 11, Edwards 10, Bush 4.