MIDWEST CITY — It wasn’t pretty, but top-ranked Okemah found a way to escape.
The Panthers defeated Heritage Hall, 42-41, after the Chargers’ Chris Hamilton missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in the first round of the Class 3A boys state tournament at Carl Albert.
“Heritage Hall turned the game up to a level we hadn’t seen,” said Okemah coach Kale Simon. “Give credit to them. They deserve to be playing in the state semifinals. Luckily, we played great defense on that last possession and came out with (the win).”
Okemah (27-1) star Austin Guinn had a game-high 17 points and John Wingfield added 13 for the Panthers, who have been the favorite for much of the season in 3A after finishing runner-up last year.
“We can’t think about people giving us anything just because of our past experiences,” Guinn said. “We’ve got to come back ready tomorrow, and just have more focus.”
Hamilton, Heritage Hall’s leading scorer, was held without a point in the first half after being saddled with foul trouble. He finished with a team-high nine points.
The Chargers used a strong third quarter, outscoring the Panthers 15-7, to cut the lead to five heading into the final eight minutes. But the Panthers early lead, 26-13 at halftime would prove to be too much to overcome.
Hamilton hit a mid-range jumper to make it 40-39 Okemah with two minutes to go, and scored again 45 second later to tie it at 41. Wingfield then hit a free throw with just under a minute remaining to give Okemah the lead for good.
“We all know the best defensive boost is scoring, and we missed a lot of (easy shots) today,” Simon said. “But we did play good defense when we had to.”
The Panthers advance to play Sequoyah-Tahlequah on Friday morning at State Fair Arena. Tip-off is set for 9 a.m.
“They’re going to score points, we can’t stop them from getting good looks,” Simon said. “Hopefully, we can do what we do well enough to get a win.”