YUKON – One of the first things Ron Dunaway told his team in the locker room was that he was proud of them.
The pride came from the hard work on the boards and the cool heads at the free-throw line for No. 11 Stilwell, as the Indians took down Mannford 49-44 in the Class 4A state semifinals Friday at Yukon High School. Stilwell (25-5) trailed by five at halftime, but dominated the third quarter and closed the game by scoring half of its fourth-quarter points from the stripe.
“We finished it well,” said Dunaway, who will coach in his first state championship game Saturday against Douglass. “They just didn’t get down, played hard and good things happened.”
Matt Lea lad Stilwell with 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Chase Littlejohn added 17 points for the Indians. Randy Daughtery and Derek Hilton each scored 13 points to pace Mannford (23-5).
With Lea picking up two fouls before halftime, the 6-foot-8 senior had to take a seat. Mannford took advantage, jumping out to a 26-21 at the break.
Dunaway made the decision to go back to Lea early in the third quarter.
“He’s a game-changer on both ends,” Dunaway said. “As well as Mannford came out, I felt we had to go back to him.”
The decision paid off. In the third, a baseline dunk from Lea gave Stilwell a 32-30 lead and simultaneously ignited the Indians’ crowd. Stilwell went into the fourth quarter with a 35-32 advantage.
From there, the Indians hit their foul shots. Seven of Stilwell’s 14 points in the final period came at the line – another point of pride for Dunaway.
The Indians were 7-of-10 at the line in the fourth and 9-of-13 overall.
“We talked about it all year,” Dunaway said of free throws. “It’s something we kept stressing and we shot well from the line in this stretch right here.”
In the stretch to the state tournament, Stilwell ran into Douglass in regional play. The Trojans beat the Indians 77-72 and the two teams will meet Saturday with even more on the line in the 4A final.
Stilwell has to do the things it did right against Mannford, and more, to beat the four-time defending champion Trojans.
Dunaway is ready … and proud.
“To me, the game tomorrow, regardless of who it is, that’s what we wanted,” he said. “We look forward to the opportunity.”