BOYS BASKETBALL: BTW routs Claremore behind 13 3-pointers, 31 takeaways

Feb. 24—TULSA — It was a Michael Jordan meme come to life.

Despite the best efforts of Booker T. Washington's prolific offense in the first half, Claremore refused to fold. Even when it closed the first quarter with a 10-2 run to push its lead to double digits, the Zebras answered with consecutive 3-pointers from Will Jones and Teegan Mann to come within 4 points.

That stubbornness bothered the Hornets for most of the second period, for Claremore kept its deficit to single digits until Barron Harris Jr. tallied a 3-point play and Joc Mitchell utilized his 6-foot-7 frame for a pair of driving layups to give BTW a 36-24 halftime lead.

However, even with a 12-point cushion, the Hornets were undoubtedly annoyed by the exertion required to secure the advantage.

In a manner reminiscent of a popular MJ meme, they took that personally.

BTW revealed its true offensive potency in the second half while outscoring the Zebras 54-29 to secure a 90-53 victory in the Class 5A East Regional 1 championship Friday night at Nathan E. Harris Field House in Tulsa.

After hitting only two 3-pointers in the first half, the Hornets dropped six in the third quarter alone while also getting to the free-throw line at a high rate as that once 12-point lead grew to as many as 38 points. As a result, BTW outscored Claremore 31-7 over that eight-minute stretch.

Jamarri Simpson hit four of those six 3s on his way to an 18-point game.

"We knew if we turned the ball over and let them get numbers, that's how they play — they play in transition," Zebras coach Tommy Nolan said. "They did a great job of turning us over early; that first two or three minutes really set the tone for the rest of the ballgame. Early on in that second half, I felt like we had two or three really bad turnovers that we usually don't make, and that cost us points in transition. They caught us scrambling around trying to do a couple of different things, which is a little uncharacteristic of us. That was pretty hard to overcome."

Claremore (14-11) did have trouble with ball security for a majority of the game, finishing with 31 turnovers. Those struggles were especially evident in the third period as the Zebras allowed 12 takeaways.

Things only got worse in the fourth period, with the Hornets hitting another five 3-pointers. This time it was Oliver Wallace with the hot hand, making three of those triples to finish with 9 points.

When BTW (22-1) wasn't hitting a 3, it was usually at the free-throw line.

The Hornets made a habit of drawing fouls in any scenario, even when shooting from the perimeter. At the end of the first quarter, Isaac Sanders was fouled while shooting a 3 and went on to make all three free throws to give his team its first double-digit lead at 19-9. Sanders finished with 15 points — including four 3-pointers — and 3 rebounds. Mitchell and Harris Jr. joined him and Simpson in double figures with 18 and 14 points, respectively, while also gathering 8 and 4 rebounds.

In all, BTW shot 21-of-32 from the line while Claremore was granted only five free throws total, making four.

"Booker T, they're probably the No. 1 team in the state for a reason," Nolan said. "They come at you in so many different ways."

Braxton Etheridge made one of those free throws in the fourth period as part of a 3-point play, highlighting a strong finish for the Zebras, who scored 22 points in the final frame.

Rex Clark was Claremore's only player to reach double figures, finishing with 12 points and 5 rebounds. Will Jones (9 points/2 rebounds) and Tytus Eubanks (8 points/3 rebounds) had notable performances as well, while Eli Rodgers and Adam Isenbart — who scored 3 points apiece — co-led the Zebras on the boards alongside Clark with 5 rebounds.

"That's the character of our kids and the character of our program," Nolan said. "There should never be a play or game where we don't compete or give it our best. That's something we stress every day at practice, and our guys compete, no matter if we're up or down. I expected them to keep competing no matter what."

Claremore plays Will Rogers in an elimination game at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Edison, with the winner advancing to the area tournament.

The Ropers come into the game with a 10-15 record but have won four of their past six games, including a 55-45 victory over Grove in an elimination game Friday night.

"We haven't played them, but we've seen them on film a couple of times," Nolan said. "They're very athletic, and we know they've got some guards that can play and get to the rim. We'll have our hands full, but we just gotta forget this one, learn from our mistakes, get back in the gym again, regroup and give it our best tomorrow night."