LOCUST GROVE — Despite boasting a first-half stat line of six points and seven rebounds, Lucas Lechlider couldn’t help but feel disappointed.
The 6-foot-7 junior picked up his third foul late in the second quarter, and he knew he had to play carefully from there on to avoid fouling out.
“I was kind of bummed out about that,” Lechlider said.
However, that discontent didn’t prevent him from playing aggressively on the offensive end.
Lechlider scored 10 of his career-high 16 points in the second half — including eight in the fourth quarter — to help Class 4A No. 18 Verdigris stave off a late rally for a 55-40 victory over Nathan Hale in the first round of the Bank of Locust Grove Tournament at Pirate Arena. He also grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds to finish with a double-double.
The Rangers came within nine late in the fourth after trailing by as many as 16 in the second half, but Lechlider’s layup with 2:08 remaining sparked a 6-0 run to seal the win.
“Whenever my team got me the ball, I just made easy bumps,” Lechlider said. “That’s the best feeling. I hope I can keep playing to that extent.”
It was another breakout performance for the junior, who is averaging 8.8 points and more than 10 rebounds per game.
Lechlider played the first two games of the 2019-2020 season before suffering a fractured right knee and fibula in a skiing accident while on a family trip in Colorado in late December. The injuries forced him to miss the remainder of the season.
Not exactly the best Christmas present ever.
“We were night skiing,” Lechlider said. “There were lights, but I still managed to hit my head on a tree and wreck. It was pretty bad. I had to have the ski patrol ski me down, so it was a big deal, and it was like three days after Christmas.”
He began physical therapy upon his return to Oklahoma, and though that became an at-home activity when the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic emerged in March, he healed enough to play summer basketball with the Tulsa Hawks, a competitive AAU club.
That experience helped hone his skills and elevate his productivity on the court. His numbers through six games speak for themselves.
“That really helped me grow as a player,” Lechlider said of his time with the Tulsa Hawks. “Last year I don’t think I was as good as I am right now. I would’ve been a big body on the court last year but not as big of a presence as I am now.”
Trent Haddock also scored in double figures with 10 points and four rebounds, and Brandon Lederman had a notable performance as well with nine points and five boards.
Nathan Hale’s Demetrius Neal nearly notched a double-double of his own with 19 points and nine rebounds, scoring 14 points in the second half. Kabron Lewis added 11 points and three rebounds for the Rangers.
Although Verdigris coach Chris Houk was satisfied with the 15-point win, he said the rust from the team’s 20-day break was evident. The Cardinals hadn’t played a game since upsetting Class 3A No. 4 Adair 67-58 in overtime on Dec. 18.
Against Hale, Verdigris shot 5-of-9 from the free-throw line and committed 18 turnovers.
“It’s to be expected being the first game back from Christmas Break,” said Houk, whose squad plays Class A No. 3 Garber at 7:20 p.m. Friday. “You kind of get out of that routine. We were talking about how ugly it was, but it’s to be expected. You hope not, but that’s typical. It’s like there’s two seasons. There’s that season before Christmas, and now it’s like a brand-new season, and this was the first game of the next season.
“We responded well.”
Bank of Locust Grove Tournament
VERDIGRIS 55, NATHAN HALE 40
VERDIGRIS – Lucas Lechlider 16, Trent Haddock 10, Lederman 9, Ryan 7, Keith 5, Bell 4, Kirby 3, White 1.
NATHAN HALE – Demetrius Neal 19, Kabron Lewis 11, Lane 6, McKinney 2, Morehead 2.
3-point goals: Verdigris – Lederman 1, Ryan 1. Hale – Lewis 3, Lane 2.
Free throws: Verdigris 5-9. Hale 5-9.
Rebounds: Verdigris – Lechlider 14, Team 9, Lederman 5, Kirby 5, Keith 4, White 4, Haddock 4, Bell 3, Ryan 3, Layton 1. TOTAL 52. Hale – Neal 9, McKinney 7, Love 6, Team 5, Lewis 3, Lane 2, Billey 1, Morehead 1. TOTAL 34
Turnovers: Verdigris 18. Hale 13.