CNHI News Services
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.
“Coach said that to us because there’s still another half that we can score in and win,” she said. “”Every shot we took and made in the second half pumped us up even more. We also wanted to get on the offensive boards.”
The Lady Tigers were able to go inside because of the outside shooting. They made 4-of-8 shots from beyond the arc in the second half.
Mount St. Mary coach Rory Hamilton watched as the Lady Tigers dominated in the second half.
“They got the momentum going a little bit and our girls were back on their heels a little bit,” he said. “We didn’t respond like we normally do. We gave up 39 points in the second half. They’re hard to guard because they have good outside shooting and the big girls inside. You have to pick your poison a little bit and we were on the wrong side.”
Aimee Rishcard led the Lady Rockets (25-6) with 18 points and Jordan Hagood added 10.
The Lady Tigers also worked their defense as senior Taylor London held 5-11 junior Kaley Bond to just two points on 1-of-3 shooting. Bond pumped in 19 points in Friday’s upset win against defending state champion Anadarko.
This was the Tigers sixth trip in the last eight seasons to the finals. The other title game appearances under Walker came in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2012.