As I talked to Marco Gagliardi prior to Friday night’s blockbuster game against Lawton High, the MacArthur coach seemed to be walking the line of nervous excitement. And after Friday night’s game, both teams showed why they each have reason to be both nervous and excited about potential runs at state championships.
I’m not saying these teams aren’t capable of making runs deep into the playoffs. But both teams did play in waves on Friday, some of which made me feel confident about their ability to compete with the best in their classes, others that gave me pause. And given the atmosphere and stakes, it was probably the closest these teams will get to a “playoff game” before the actual playoffs start.
Lawton High has one of the most impressive resumes you can ask for. Although the loss to Putnam City is still a bit of a head-scratcher, the Wolverines have wins over three of the top six teams in Class 6A, the top team in Class 3A and two wins over MacArthur, the second of which came without big man Ashawnti Hunter.
But Hunter or no Hunter, Lawton High did not look like a state-winning team toward the end of the first half on Friday, and coach Eric Wiley even admitted as such, saying his team was too “stagnant”. They weren’t moving around on offense, they weren’t using their size to their advantage and at times, it began to seem like the burden of securing the top seed in Class 6A’s west side was getting to them. That led to MacArthur getting a seven-point lead at half.
MacArthur, whom I have not gotten to see much of in person this season, makes up for its lack of size with outstanding athleticism. Arzhonte Dallas might be listed at 5’9 and Danquez Dawsey may be 6’1 but they play much bigger than that on a regular basis. Although he hit three triples on Friday, most of Dallas’ 25 points came from him driving the lane and rising toward the basket. They are also part of a group of about six guys who can take over any given game for Mac, all of whom can stroke the deep ball from time to time.
Unfortunately for MacArthur, those six players are also the only ones who see the floor most of the game. With little depth, the top six play long minutes, and some players had to take extended breaks. And that’s where many of my concerns lie with this team. If foul trouble hits, then what?
The Wolverines seem to be on the opposite end of the spectrum. While Mac has three players under six feet, Lawton High has the size you want, but sometimes chooses to be more reliant on the three than needed. But the Wolverines do have the depth that can win championships. Yes, Sep Reese and Marty Perry were the stars in Friday’s win, but the Wolverines got contributions from all over. With Hunter out of the lineup, Eric Wiley and Jamel Graves stepped up. When those two got into foul trouble, LHS got big minutes from players like Jaylen Swift and Demarcus Andrews. And with the game on the line, Lawton High was able to play smart basketball, milking clock earlier than some teams might before salting it away with free throws.
However, the end of the game also exemplified the up-and-down nature of the teams. Lawton High didn’t take care of the ball late when Mac turned up the press and got easy buckets off of steals. But by that point, it was a bit too little, too late.
Both teams impressed at times on Friday, but both also left something to be desired. If they are truly going to be state contenders, both teams will face moments of adversity on the road there. How will they respond?