TAHLEQUAH – Thanks to a late long distance shooting barrage, the Charles Page High School boys basketball team was a minute away from possibly claiming the Tahlequah Tiger Invitational championship.
But the Sandites simply ran out of gas.
Senior Ashton Palmer nailed a pair of contested 3-pointers, the last of six 3-pointers in the fourth quarter from CPHS, to put the Sandites to within two points of Van Buren at 49-47 with 40 seconds left. But CPHS could connect on its last three offensive trips and the Pointers, who were opportunistic from the free throw line all night, made their final six free throws to deal the Sandites a 55-47 loss Saturday night.
"We needed some of those (3-point) shots to fall earlier," said CPHS coach Eric Savage.
Senior Tyler Tolbert led the Sandites (2-2) with 16 points. Palmer added 15 points, but it was not enough as Van Buren countered with eight 3-pointers of its own and finished the game 18-of-19 from the free throw line.
The Pointers (6-0) made three straight 3-pointers early on to jump out to an 11-3 lead. But Tolbert helped keep the Sandites afloat on a tough shooting night. Tolbert scored 13 of his points in the first 12 minutes, including a 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter, as CPHS clawed back to take a 19-18 lead midway through the second quarter.
Senior Josh Lattie scored his only basket early on in the third quarter as the Sandites trailed just 25-24 before a 10-0 Van Buren run, which included a pair of 3-pointers by Jason Harms, built the deficit back to 35-24.
With Van Buren’s 6-foot-9 sophomore Mitchell Smith, who was also named to the all-tournament team, patrolling the basket, CPHS struggled to get much offense in the paint as Lattie and freshman Kyle Keener combined for just three points.
"We were hesitant to take shots when we had open looks," Savage said. "Their key guys hit shots and ours didn’t. I thought that was the difference in the game."
Van Buren held a 39-26 lead going into the fourth quarter before the Sandites late long distance explosion.
One issue for the Sandites was free throw shooting. While the Pointers were on point from the foul line, CPHS made just 4-of-12 free throws and were 17-of-46 (37 percent) from the field.
"I thought we fought hard and our effort was there," Savage said. "Our production wasn’t."
Harms and tournament MVP Ryan Pearson finished with 15 points each to lead Van Buren. Smith tallied 10 points.
"We won the first round-game because Bradley Eversole kept Coweta’s offensive rebounding machine off the glass, and every night Jason (Harms) gets the call to defend the opponent’s best perimeter player and has yet to disappoint," said Van Buren coach Randy Loyd. "Everyone is contributing in some way."
Despite the loss, Savage felt his team grew during the three-day tournament.
"We gained more confidence," he said. "We knocked off a good Moore team and played probably our best game of the year (against Tahlequah). And we were a possession away tonight."
Van Buren, who had played four games in five nights last week, traveled Greenwood Tuesday and will head to Neosho, Mo., for the annual Christmas tournament. Van Buren won’t return home until Jan. 10 when it hosts Bentonville.
"We love playing at home and look forward to it, but this was a great week for us to go on the road or at least a neutral site and play quality teams," Loyd said. "This is great preparation for conference."
Van Buren 59, Lawton MacArthur 47 (Men’s)
The Pointers reached the finals of tournament after dispatching Lawton MacArthur on Friday.
Van Buren and the Highlanders were tied 5-5 after the first quarter, but the Pointers took a 22-18 lead at the break. Van Buren was up 38-30 heading into the fourth quarter.
Pearson led with 20 points with Harms tossing in 16. Eversole and Smith had 10 points each.
— Additional reporting provided by George "Clay" Mitchell