Sports Sunday Correspondent
TULSA — It was billed as the Rotnei-Keiton Show. Some 5,000 viewers poured into the Expo Square Pavilion Friday afternoon to watch last year's top two high school basketball scoring leaders finally come together.
Verdigris' Rotnei Clarke and Pawnee's Keiton Page were squaring off, thanks to the second day of the 43rd annual Tournament of Champions. Each entered the tournament with 30-point-plus scoring averages.
Someone forgot to inform Pawnee's Alex Hansen that the spotlight belonged to the two high-profile Division I-signed players. Hansen's five well-timed 3-point baskets allowed the Black Bears to upend Verdigris, 57-49, in the semifinals of the consolation bracket.
Back-to-back treys by Hansen early in the second quarter broke open a 15-15 tie, then two more long range nets by the 5-9 senior at the start of the final period gave Pawnee an 11-point edge to hang on to.
Three Clarke treys pulled the Cardinals to within 53-49 with 37 seconds to play, but Pawnee then used the free throw line to nail down the victory.
For Clarke, it was a case of winning the battle while losing the war. He out-scored his friend and former grade school teammate, 34-28, but Page, Hansen, and the remaining Black Bear players came away with the win.
Hansen finished with 16 points. Adam Hollon backed Clarke with eight.
"To tell the truth, Keiton and I just as soon not played against each other," Clarke said.
"Yesterday, when we knew we were actually going to match up, we were joking around with each other. Keiton said, 'Why don't you kick me in the calf and I'll kick your knee. Then we can each sit on our benches, wave at each other, and watch the rest of the guys play.’ I told him that's a good idea."
With the exception of Hansen, it was almost the total opposite concept of what Page had facetiously suggested. The remaining players were limited to low-scoring totals. The remaining players seemed to make more careless turnovers than points.
Pawnee had three other players score a total of 13 points while Verdigris had 15 points overall from three others. The Cardinals were credited with 18 turnovers while 14 were charged against the Bears. The majority on both sides were due to traveling violations.
Due to the large number of people trying to enter the building, the 2 p.m. scheduled start was delayed 35 minutes. While most might have been expecting a high-scoring shootout, they were instead treated to an interesting contest almost right to the end.
The first three quarters saw seven ties and 11 lead changes. The third quarter was a ping-pong affair. Pawnee had a five-point advantage at the midway point, but after Clarke opened the second half with a regular basket, the score was never more than three points apart.
Each side took turns edging in front before Hansen nailed his third 3-pointer. That put Pawnee on top, 35-33, and the Bears would remain there.
Up by three going into the final eight minutes, Hansen's final two treys divided by a pair of Page free throws allowed Pawnee to jump out to a 44-33 advantage.
Clarke scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter and twice pulled his team to within four, the second coming with 37 seconds to play. Pawnee answered with four straight free throw points.
At halftime, Clarke and Page had 13 points apiece. Page, who has signed to play for Oklahoma State next year, was five of eight from the field in the first half. He added only one more field goal in the second half while shooting four times. His points still added up as he calmly knocked home 13 of 14 foul shots.
The University of Arkansas-bound Clarke shot the ball 20 times and hit 11 buckets. He connected on seven treys on 14 attempts. He was five for five from the free throw line.
Neither was at full physical strength. Page has been hampered by leg cramps for several games and had to be helped from the court late in Thursday’s first round. He spent most of Thursday night-Friday morning in a hospital receiving fluids through an IV. Clarke played with a quarter-size blister on his left big toe. It broke open during the game.
Asked if Friday's outcome would have any effect on his friendship with Page, Clarke said none whatsoever.
"Keiton and I will always pull for each other. We will probably hang out together the rest of the tournament. We will continue to text each other after each game like he have been doing for the past several years.
"Of course, I wish we (Verdigris) had won today, but this game is over and it should help us from here out. Our key goal from the start has been to win a state title. We must continue to improve and we must find a way to get our younger guys playing with more confidence. Cole (Overholt) has the ability to score big points and Aaron (Sunday) and Adam (Hollon) can step up on offense. We are going to be all right."