OKLAHOMA CITY — Coach Jerry Walker took a quote from pro basketball legend Bill Russell when he talked to his Fort Gibson Lady Tigers at halftime as they trailed Mount St. Mary 25-19 in the Class 4A state championship game at State Fair Arena on Saturday night.
“He said the least more important score is the score at halftime,” Walker said.
The Lady Tigers shook off that sluggish first half, worked the ball closer to the basket in the second half and outscored the Lady Rockets 39-18 on the way to the 58-43 victory and their second title in the last three seasons.
The Lady Tigers bounced back from 30 percent shooting (6-of-20) in the first two quarters to shoot 55 percent (11-of-20) in the latter two periods in winning the championship. Fort Gibson beat Cache 52-51 in overtime in 2011 for its other title.
“We talked about playing harder and tougher,” Walker said.
The Lady Tigers were tougher with their inside game, led by 5-foot-10 senior Brooke Palmer and 6-foot sophomore CheyAnne Johnson.
“It was no secret that we were trying to pound it inside,” Walker said. “We knew they weren’t very deep off the bench and we had the size advantage.”
The two combined for 17 points and 12 rebounds in that second half. Individually, Palmer had 15 points and six rebounds.
“We weren’t hitting our shots in the first half and we knew had to win the game inside the paint,” she said. “We knew rebounding was key because they liked to crash the boards hard. We had to scrap harder than they did. I feel like I’m on cloud nine right now.”
Johnson’s on that cloud, too. Her basket and six rebounds in the last two quarters helped the Lady Tigers, ranked No. 2 in the final Okrankings.com poll, pull away to the victory and finish the season at 29-1.