VERDIGRIS — When Oologah inbounded the ball, down three with three seconds remaining, everyone knew where it was going.
The Mustangs were undoubtedly looking for Josh Garrison, and understandably so. He had been their go-to guy all night, scoring a game-high 25 points while also grabbing seven rebounds.
However, that over reliance wound up costing them a potential game-tying shot.
Verdigris senior Jaren Keith intercepted the pass right as it reached Garrison’s hands, and the crowd erupted as he raced down the court unabated to secure a 49-46 homecoming victory for the Class 4A No. 9 Cardinals on Friday night at the Verdigris Activity Center.
“They kept throwing it over the top to Josh Garrison every time, so I was like expecting it,” said Keith, who finished with seven points and a rebound. “So I just read it and got a steal.”
That wasn’t his only heroic moment, though.
A few possessions earlier, Keith — a 5-foot-9 guard — scored a putback basket off a Lucas Lechlider miss to increase the Verdigris lead to 49-44. It was his only rebound of the game and his only score of the second half, but it stymied Oologah’s 10-3 run.
“I saw Lucas go up with it, and I just wanted to be there just in case he did miss it,” Keith said, “and I was in the right spot and got a bucket.”
Lechlider, a 6-7 junior, had himself a notable fourth as well, opening the period with five-consecutive points that included a three-point play. He came up just shy of a double-double at 12 points and nine rebounds.
Brandon Lederman co-led the team in scoring alongside Lechlider with 12 points, including two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and four overall. The senior also grabbed two rebounds.
That scoring depth has come in handy time and time again for the Cardinals (17-1) this season, helping them win all nine of their games decided by single digits.
“We have a big 6-7 kid in the middle, and that definitely helps a lot,” Keith said. “We have a lot of guys who can shoot it, and we have a lot of guys who can score and penetrate.
“We’ve had a lot of close games, but we get over the hump every time. It’s working, so let’s hope it carries on to the playoffs.”
Verdigris coach Chris Houk was a little worried the pageantry of Homecoming Night would affect his team’s mindset, but his anxiety diminished quickly after Lederman paced the Cardinals to a 10-2 lead behind two 3-pointers.
Garrison wasn’t about to let Verdigris off that easy, though.
The 6-2 junior scored the game’s next 11 points to suddenly put the Mustangs (7-7) in front, and Isaiah Ryan, who tallied eight points and six rebounds, joined in to make it a 13-0 run.
“When we went up 10-2, I was like, ‘All right, maybe I was worried about nothing,’” Houk said. “But (Garrison) is good, and our emphasis was him. He had 23 on us last time and got 25 this time, and we knew we had to get it out of his hands somehow and make those other guys contribute.”
The Cardinals eventually somewhat slowed Garrison down, holding him to five points in the second quarter and scoreless for nearly the entire third until he tied the score at 34 near the end of the frame.
However, Isiak Layton answered by sparking a 10-0 run that extended into the fourth quarter, giving Verdigris a 44-34 cushion before Garrison reignited for seven more points down the stretch.
“It seems like every team has that one guy who can score at will, and he’s a great player,” Houk said. “Unfortunately he’s a junior, so we have to fight against him next year, too.”
The Cardinals return home on Tuesday, Feb. 9 when they put their 16-game winning streak on the line against Jay.
Editor’s note: The girls game between Verdigris and Oologah was canceled because of COVID-19 issues facing the Lady Mustangs.
VERDIGRIS 49, OOLOGAH 46
OOLOGAH -- Josh Garrison 25, Ryan 8, DeSpain 7, Mader 3, Gibson 3.
VERDIGRIS -- Lucas Lechlider 12, Brandon Lederman 12, Haddock 8, Keith 7, Layton 7, White 2, Kirby 1.
3-point goals: Oologah -- DeSpain 1, Mader 1, Gibson 1. Verdigris -- Lederman 4, Haddock 2, Keith 1, Layton 1.
Free throws: Oologah 9-9. Verdigris 5-7.
Rebounds: Oologah -- Team 8, Garrison 7, Ryan 6, DeSpain 2, Mader 2, Johnson 1. TOTAL 26. Verdigris -- Lechlider 9, Haddock 6, Lederman 2, Team 2, Kirby 1, Layton 1, Keith 1.
Turnovers: Oologah 13. Verdigris 14.