CATOOSA — It was a good news/bad news situation for the Claremore Zebras Thursday night as they played in the opening round of Catoosa's 41st annual Port City Classic high school basketball tournament.
Taking the bad news first, a top-notch comeback effect fell short, 68-62, against Oklahoma City Grant.
The good news was the Zebras were back playing for real. Due to the recent ice storm and postponement of basketball games, a total of 16 days had elapsed since Claremore's last outing, Jan. 9.
"This has been a crazy season," Zebra coach Lance Bennett said Thursday. "I've never seen anything like it. We started the year with a few games and the big snowstorm hits. We start playing again and it's the Christmas break. We come back and then the ice hits. It feels like we have started the season three times.”
After a slow beginning for both sides, Claremore did not appear to be rusty from the recent layoff. The end result was that the Zebras could not match up with Grant's multiple scoring attack.
"These are the kinds of teams we need to play,” Bennett said. “They are good ... real good. And this type of game is going to help us down the stretch."
The Generals, 9-5, got 16 points each from Brian Moore, Justin Hart and Keith Moore. Two others had nine.
Claremore's main scoring came from Andrew Rounds and Chris Bottoms, who teamed for 40 points. Rounds, the game's top scorer with 21 points, hit 11 of his points as Claremore battled back from a 15-point deficit.
Trailing 56-41 with just under 4:56 remaining, the Zebras outscored Grant, 21-12, the rest of the way.
Sophomore Robert Boyles, a 6-0 sophomore who has seen limited playing time, came off the bench and aided the Zebra rally. He hit two baskets, had an assist, and pulled down two rebounds.
The Grant players arrived only a few minutes before tip-off. Both sides were slow in finding the nets at the start and each settled for only nine first-quarter points.
Following three lead changes and four ties, Claremore led by as much as 17-11, early in the second quarter. At halftime, the Zebras held a 23-21 advantage.
Hart kick-started his General teammates once the second half began. He quickly tied the game at 23 and again at 25. On the second goal, he was fouled and his free shot put Grant on top 26-25 at 6:32.
Grant held the lead the rest of the way. The outcome was decided in the third quarter as Grant outscored Claremore, 24-12.
Bennett praised his players’ effort and how they fought back at the end of the game.
"The layoff didn't appear to have much effect,” he said. “We just need to play games now. We get down by 15-16 points, but the team didn't quit. They fought and were able to get back in the game. The boys were very faithful coming to practice, but there were a few days we couldn't get to the gym. There were times I had to pull groceries a mile on a sled because I couldn't get my car in and out from my house."
Now the ice has melted and the Zebras are back playing finally, and they didn't wait long for another game. They were slated to play Grove at 11:30 a.m. today in the tournament's consolation bracket. The Ridgerunners lost, 66-39, to Bartlesville Thursday afternoon.
GRANT 68, CLAREMORE 62
Grant 9 12 24 23 — 68
Claremore 9 14 14 25 — 62
OC Grant — Hart 16, B.Moore 16, K.Moore 16, Cudjoe 9, McCoy 9, Pruitt 2.
Claremore — Rounds 21, Bottoms 19, Riley 8, Wilson 7, Boyles 4, Sanders 2, Grubb 1.
CAPITOL HLL 72, CATOOSA 32
Capitol Hill 19 19 26 8 — 72
Catoosa 8 10 2 12 — 32
OC Capitol Hill — Robinson 20, Boswell 10, Henry 10, Woodside 9, McPherson 8, Evans 4, Johnson 4, Harvey 3, Thomas 2.
Catoosa — Chesney 15, Loomis 6, Nienhuis 6, Fletcher 2, Wilsey 2, Willibey 2.
OC Capitol Hill 72, Catoosa 32
OC Grant 68, Claremore 62
Tahlequah 52, Broken Bow 50
Bartlesville 66, Grove 39
Claremore vs. Grove, 11:30 a.m.
Catoosa vs. Broken Bow, 2:30 p.m.
OC Capitol Hill vs. Tahlequah, 5:30 p.m.
Bartlesville vs. OC Grant, 8:30 p.m.