The Zizzers neutralized Central’s full-court pressure defense and kept their cool in an 82-68 win on Thursday night.
“They were so athletic and they never quit,” said Smith. “They press and trap the entire game. On Wednesday I put eight or nine guys on the floor in football pads and made them trap and press. That forced us to see through the mess. I anticipated it would be like that, and physical. I was glad to see our poise and composure when the game was being played at such a frenetic pace.”
West Plains created separation with a 9-0 run late in the third quarter, getting into the lane for buckets by Dusty Harrill, Taylor Gill and Justin Davis. Another bucket in the lane - by Cole Butler - put the Zizzers in front 56-45 heading into the fourth quarter.
The lead swelled to 15 points when Zach Flippin opened the final period with four straight points and West Plains had a comfortable 70-59 cushion with three minutes to play. But the Braves refused to go away.
Instead Aryion Smith turned a steal into a lay-up to spark a 9-2 run. Central dominated the boards during that surge and took advantage of several West Plains turnovers. Smith capped the run himself with a 3-pointer from the right wing to pull Central to within four points with 1:32 to play. Davis hit a pair of free throws to give West Plains some breathing room and - after a steal by Flippin - Butler drove the left baseline in transition and scored while drawing a foul.
That’s when Central unraveled. Shamar Manuel, who was whistled for his fourth foul on the play, picked up a technical foul and was disqualified from the game. Manuel was making his way to the bench, Delvon Lucas picked up a T of his own. That was his fifth foul as well, meaning the Braves were not only going to be without two of their best players for the rest of the game, but were also going to give the Zizzers four more free throws and the ball.
“I challenged the boys,” said Smith. “I said I know we’re worn out, but all you’ve got to do is get two big boards and two plays on the other end and this game will be over. As a matter of fact we got three big boards and three plays on the other end. We just sucked it up and found a way. I’m proud of the way they finished it off.”
The Zizzers hit all four of those shots and got a great backdoor cut from Butler for an easy layup to seal the win.
“We let up and made some stupid errors,” said Butler. “We made some bad passes, turned the ball over, and gave up four real quick points. We turned it up after that, though.”
Butler, a 6-foot-3 senior post, finished with 21 points, including nine in the final quarter. Fellow starter Dalton Freshour added 11, while Justin Davis and Seth Pingleton came off the bench to chip in 14 and 11, respectively.
“This win feels great,” said Butler. “We were able to keep our composure and come out of here with a win.”
Lucas, with a game-high 24 points, was the difference maker for the Braves, showing off quickness and a sharp jumper. Tulsa Central was consistently better when he was on the floor. However, Smith and the Zizzers did find a weakness in his game.
“We wanted to not let him have a direct line to the basket if possible,” said Smith. “Because I knew if he didn’t pull up and shoot it, he was going to the rim and I wanted to get set up for a charge. I think we drew three charges on him.”
Manuel added 13 for Central, while Chaz Glover chipped in12.