Sports Sunday Correspondent
TULSA — In the end, McAlester managed to win the game that for more than three quarters appeared to be a runaway. In the end, it wasn't quite that easy.
Down by 10 points with just under four minutes to go Friday night, the Claremore Zebras rallied behind Andrew Rounds to force overtime before losing, 80-79.
The heartbreaking defeat came in the first round of the Class 5A high school basketball regionaltournament at East Central and ended Claremore's basketball season at 10-13.
McAlester, 13-10, advanced to the regional finals and played No. 1-ranked East Central Saturday night. The Cardinals defeated Catoosa, 85-43.
For the first 28 minutes, the Buffaloes were driving nails in Claremore's coffin behind the play of Darrick Matthews and Trey Harrison. Then with 3:28 to go, the Zebras rose from dead.
In the fourth quarter, Rounds hit 14 of his 31 points. Brent Wilson added six and Chris Bottoms four as the trio of Zebra seniors refused to quit. With 14 seconds remaining, Wilson scored on a layup and a 66-66 tie.
Six seconds earlier, McAlester had a four-point edge before Rounds' layup set the stage for Wilson.
Adding four extra minutes on the scoreboard, the two teams came off the bench smoking.
Matthews, finishing with 41 points, connected on a free throw and gave the Buffs the first overtime point. Claremore came back with its first lead since early in the opening period, as Rounds battled his way in for a hard-fought bank shot.
Seven times the lead would switch hands in the overtime period.
McAlester went on top to stay with 26 seconds left. Cameron Green did it with the old-fashion three-point play. He was fouled while going in for a layup, and then he converted his free throw.
That put the Buffs on top, but it was a pair of Matthews' free throws that settled the outcome. They gave the Buffs an 80-76 edge with just over a second to go.
All four points were needed.
Receiving the inbound pass at mid-court, Rounds took one step and fired toward the bucket. The ball hit nothing but net.
The buzzer went off while the ball was in the air.
Claremore was one point short.
A disappointing loss, but a gallant comeback.
"This is tough. Our seniors tonight worked so hard to get us in position to win," Zebra coach Lance Bennett said. "We were in a position to win. We just didn't have a four-point play there at the end.
"I am so proud of this team ... so proud of the seniors. They fought all the way. Everyone left it all on the floor tonight."
It was Matthews who gave McAlester the big edge early. Racing in from all directions, the 6-2 senior connected on nine of 12 field goals and had 20 points by halftime.
Trey Harrison, a 6-5 senior, backed Matthews with 15.
The Zebras finished with three players in double figures. Rounds hit 13 of 18 field goals, ending with the perfect three-pointer. In their final high school basketball game, Bottoms scored 20, Wilson added 14 and Trevor Grubb wound up with eight.
Only seven Zebras played against the Buffaloes.
McALESTER 80, CLAREMORE 79
McAlester 21 16 16 13 14 — 80
Claremore 17 12 14 23 13 — 79
McAlester — Matthews 41, Harrison 15, Kluzak 8, Green 6, Cooper 6, Boyle 2.
Claremore — Rounds 31, Bottoms 20, Wilson 14, Grubb 8, Riley 6.
EAST CENTRAL 85, CATOOSA 43
Catoosa 6 8 21 8 — 43
East Central 28 30 16 11 — 85
Catoosa — Chesney 11, Wilsey 10, Smith 7, Loomis 6, Nienhuis 4, Brown 2, Fletcher 2, Godsey 1.
East Central — Holdman 11, Michael Jones 11, Mitchell 10, Chilton 8, Udoumoh 8, Hadnott 7, Mack Jones 7, Coleman 7, Driver 7, Session 5, Hooks 2, Adkism 2.