PRYOR — Science says there is nothing that can scratch a diamond except another diamond, but Karson Bickel had no issues overpowering the Sallisaw Black Diamonds.
The Sequoyah senior set the tone with the first basket of the game and continued asserting his dominance the rest of the way with 18 points and seven rebounds, leading the Class 3A No. 6 Eagles to a 61-44 victory over Sallisaw in the Pryor Invitational Tournament championship Saturday night at the Burdick Center.
“He’s been our best player. I mean, this has been an adjustment for him,” Sequoyah coach Tim Bart said of Bickel, who was named the tournament MVP. “Last year he was more of a guard; he shot 40% from 3. With Tristan (Gibson) hurt, and Kaleb (Bickel) has been hurt and just came back after the first of the year — he sat out all preseason — I told Karson after football he's our post-scoring post guy, and he's just been the stallion. He has kept us in games, and he gave us another element down there. He's so athletic and quick. He's hard to guard down there, and you saw tonight they were trying to double him, and they're pounding on him but he’s still just fighting and still gets 18 points or whatever.
“He was our best player all three nights.”
It was the Eagles’ third tournament championship win of the season, having won the Adair Invitational in December and the Regent Prep Invitational earlier this month. They are now 14-1 on the season with eight games remaining until the postseason begins.
During its 11-game winning streak, Sequoyah has averaged 64.4 points per game while surrendering 44.4.
“That was kind of a team goal that we had — to win all three tournaments,” Bart said. “We accomplished that. We didn't play our greatest, but we played good enough to win and made shots when we had to. But it's a process. We’ve won 11 in a row, and I couldn't be more happy. We've got some kids coming off the injured list and trying to get them back into the groove of it, so we're on to the second part of the season. I thought we finished well the first part, so we just gotta take it one game at a time.”
The Eagles opened the game with an 8-0 run — including two baskets from Luke Wood — and though the Black Diamonds (7-8) responded with consecutive 3-pointers to cut the deficit to two, Bart’s squad was never truly threatened.
That is because Bickel sparked yet another 8-0 run, which included back-to-back Josh Gibson 3-balls, that spanned into the second quarter. Sequoyah then used a 7-0 spurt, during which Bickel threw down a dunk, later in the second to extend the lead to 25-11 before settling for a 27-13 halftime edge.
The only thing keeping Sallisaw somewhat in the game was the Eagles’ poor free-throw shooting.
Sequoyah was uncharacteristically bad from the line, missing eight of its first 12 attempts before making 16 of 17 down the stretch to finish 20-of-29 (69%).
Before that issue was corrected, the Black Diamonds managed to pull within five at 32-27 after opening the second half with a 14-5 run. The Eagles scored the next 10 points, though, via Eestyn Prater and Wood 3-pointers and two sets of free throws to push the edge back to double digits for good.
“(Friday night) we were 17-of-20; we shoot 85% from the free-throw line,” Bart said. “Eestyn is shooting like 75% on the year from the free-throw line, and he missed his first four in a row. Then it becomes mental. You start shooting not to miss instead of to make, and you’re not as positive. Once we got in the flow of things, we started making them like we had been all year. We’ve been a good free-throw shooting team. We still got it up to 69%, which is good, but it wouldn’t have been good if we continued the whole game like that. That’s a coach’s worst nightmare. You miss the first four, and you’re going, ‘Oh no, not one of those night.’
“But we started making them and clicking, and everything worked out well.”
Wood — who was named to the all-tournament team — scored five of those points during the game-clinching run, finishing with 15 points and four rebounds. Elsewhere, Josh Gibson had nine points — all via 3-balls — and five rebounds while Brett Burks managed eight and five, and Prater added seven points with a team-high nine rebounds.
Even with the game well in hand after that, Bickel wasn’t done impressing.
He scored five-consecutive points early in the fourth via a layup and a three-point play, pushing the advantage to its largest of the game at 49-29 before Sallisaw’s Jackson Obregon cut into the lead with nine-straight points, including a rare four-point play.
Bickel made one free throw after that to cap his scoring night.
Obregon led the Black Diamonds with 14 points and three rebounds, and Sim Kilpatrick contributed 10 points and four boards. Parker Jackson managed only two free throws offensively but was a magnet on the glass, snagging a game-high 14 rebounds.
“We can't take anybody lightly or for granted or it'd be like this,” Bart said. “It'll be a dogfight. They (Sallisaw) are .500, and I think Vinita has a losing record. We got to play every game. Not to our opponent, but to ourselves and not let the scoreboard dictate whether we're good.
“I try to convince them everyone's like the state finals.”
SEQUOYAH 61, SALLISAW 44
SALLISAW — Jackson Obregon 14, Sim Kilpatrick 10, Dill 5, Cameron 5, Lamb 4, P. Jackson 2, Romero 2, C. Jackson 2.
SEQUOYAH — Karson Bickel 18, Luke Wood 15, Gibson 9, Burks 8, Prater 7, Moore 4.
3-pointers: Sequoyah (7) — Wood 3, Gibson 3, Prater 1. Sallisaw (6) — Kilpatrick 2, Obregon 2, Dill 1, Cameron 1.
Free throws: Sequoyah 20-29, Sallisaw 6-12.
Rebounds: Sallisaw (36) — Parker Jackson 14, Kilpatrick 4, Cox 4, Obregon 3, Lamb 3, Dill 2, Cameron 2, Team 2, Stump 1, Morgan 1. Sequoyah (35) — Prater 9, Bickel 7, Burks 5, Gibson 5, Wood 4, Team 4, Chambers 1.
Turnovers: Sequoyah 10, Sallisaw 15.