Once Sequoyah-Tahlequah got a little breathing room in the fourth quarter, the team’s talented guards weren’t about to let a lead slip away.
The Lady Indians played a good game of keep away down the stretch, made clutch free throws and held off Vanoss 57-48 to claim the championship of the 2019 Bertha Frank Teague Mid-America Classic.
The Lady Indians, ranked No. 1 in Class 3A, ran their record to 9-1 on the year. Their only blemish was a 53-48 loss to Class 6A No. 6 Booker T. Washington Dec. 14 at the Tahlequah Tournament.
Meanwhile, Vanoss — No. 1 in Class 2A — saw its season-opening 12-game win streak come to an end and dropped to 12-1.
Jones won the rebounding battle 37-28 and had 15 offensive boards and was able to force Vanoss into 20 turnovers with its relentless defensive pressure.
“We knew they were going to be really good. If you’re going to beat them, you’re going to have to do a better job on the boards and not turn the basketball over,” said Vanoss head coach Jonathon Hurt. “It’s hard to emulate what they do and when you don’t see that all year, it takes some time to get adjusted to their speed of the game and their length.”
The Lady Longhorns led 45-37 heading to the fourth quarter before Emily Wilson hit a 3-pointer and scored on a putback to get Vanoss within 45-42.
Rileigh Rush hit a free shot for Vanoss with 6:27 to play to make it 47-43, but tournament MVP Lexy Keys answered with two free throws of her own to push the Jones lead back to six with 5:55 showing.
Smalls Goudeau hit a bucket for Sequoyah-Tahlequah with just over four minutes left in the game to put her team on top 51-43, and Lizzy Simpson fouled out for Vanoss at the 3:57 mark. Those two plays began to signal the beginning of the end for the Lady Wolves.
The Lady Indians went 6-of-6 from the free-throw line in the final 3:08 — including four from Keys — all while milking precious time off the clock with each possession.
“In the end, we made free throws down the stretch and took care of the basketball, and that was the difference,” said Sequoyah-Tahlequah head coach Justin Brown. “We spread them out. Size is their strength, and guards are our strength. We had the lead and took advantage of our speed on the outside the last four or five minutes, and that made the difference.”
The Lady Indians led by as many as 10 during a 20-12 run in the second period, but a free throw by Emrie Ellis and a 3-point bank shot by Wilson just before halftime made it 27-21 at the break.
A Keys jumper midway through the third period put Sequoyah-Tahlequah ahead 34-27. Vanoss responded with nine consecutive points, including six by Simpson. Her basket with just over two minutes left in the period gave Vanoss a 36-34 lead and had the pro-Lady Wolves Kerr Center crowd rockin’.
However, the Lady Indians outscored Vanoss 11-1 over the final minutes of the third period — including a 3-pointer and a mid-range jumper by Baylee Davis — to build a 45-37 lead and set the stage for the fourth quarter.
Hurt said the entire Mid-America experience should pay dividends for the Lady Wolves on down the road.
“I’m really proud of the kids. We played some of the best teams in the state for three straight days and looked pretty good throughout. We can learn from this because we’re going to play other good teams … It will help us in the long run,” he said.
Simpson led the charge for Vanoss despite her early exit. She finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, both team-highs. Wilson tossed in 14 points and hit four 3-pointers, and Ellis chimed in with 12 points, six rebounds, six assists, three blocked shots and two steals.
Keys played every bit of the MVP role for Sequoyah-Tahlequah. She finished with a game-high 25 points, hit 15-of-16 free throws and had five steals.
“She’s our leader. She does a little bit of everything. She handles it, shoots it and plays great defense,” Brown said. “What I’m most proud of is she hooks up on both ends of the floor. She’s not just out there to shoot it. She’s going to guard you — I don’t know how many deflections she gets in a game. She just makes everyone else around her better. Kids like that are hard to come by, and we’re lucky to have one.”
Goudeau added 10 points and nine rebounds for the winners, while Jaide Long followed with eight points, including a pair of 3-point baskets. Jessica Mackey also scored eight points off the bench and had two triples of her own.
Ironically, Sequoyah-Tahlequah wasn’t one of the original eight teams that were selected to compete in the 2019 Mid-America Classic, sponsored by Vision Bank. Another team dropped out in Mid-November, and the Lady Indians jumped at the chance to enter the Mid-America field.
“There’s a reason this tournament is considered one of the best. I’ve been to other big tournaments over the holidays, but the way our kids were treated and the way the tournament is ran is just on another level,” Brown said. “We had a great time, and we appreciate all the hospitality here. We couldn’t be more thankful to be here and honored to be a part of it. It’s unfortunate for the way it worked out for the other school. But like I said, we’re honored to be here. I’ve always held this tournament in high regard, and we enjoyed it.”