By JOEL COLEMAN
MABEN – Against all odds, West Oktibbeha just keeps pulling out the wins.
In a season that's already been full of come-from-behind victories and buzzer-beaters, the Timberwolves yet again found a way to win Friday night, 77-74 over Okolona, turning around a huge fourth quarter deficit and turning away Mississippi State signee David Gardner in the process.
"(Gardner's) a nobody," said West Oktibbeha's Kendrin Yates, who scored a team-high 22 points for the Timberwolves. "We locked him down (in the second half). Our motto is, we fear no man, and big boys show up in big games. That's what we do."
Despite Yates' words, Gardner proved to be every bit as good as advertised in the first half.
The 6-foot-6, 185-pound guard tallied 29 points over the contest's first two quarters before being limited to just nine in the second half for a game-high total of 38.
Behind Gardner, Okolona took a 46-32 lead into the intermission.
"First half, we were just ready to play ball," said Gardner. "We just played way more intense than the second half. I think in the second half, we were just sluggish and we weren't playing good defense."
West Oktibbeha (18-5, 4-0 in Class A, Region 4) was able to take full advantage of Okolona's struggles.
Even though the Chieftans (14-7, 4-1 in Class A, Region 4) extended their lead to 60-44 heading into the fourth quarter, West Oktibbeha outscored Okolona 33-14 in the final period to pull off the comeback.
The lead changed hands seven times over the game's final 3 1/2 minutes, but in the end, it was the Timberwolves who came out on top.
"It's a big thrill, a huge thrill," said West Oktibbeha head coach Danny Crawford. "I knew we matched up with them pretty good. We just had to contain (Gardner)."
It took a bit, but the Timberwolves finally did just that.
Following Gardner's big first half, West Oktibbeha switched to primarily a man-to-man defense with Dantaveous Crawford holding much of the responsibility for guarding Gardner.
"We tried to throw a little bit of everything at him," said Coach Crawford. "We tried man, we tried zone, but the thing with the first half was, we were too ready and just couldn't calm down.
"Second half, I believe Dantaveous gave (Gardner problems) with his length. I knew (Gardner) wouldn't be able to shoot over Dantaveous all night. Plus, late in the game, I wanted to run him and get him tired."
Coach Crawford's plan worked, frustrating Gardner who had very few good looks in the final two quarters.
"They didn't really get me out of my rhythm, but I think I wasn't picking my shots correctly," said Gardner. "I tried to come through in the fourth quarter to keep my team in it, but the third quarter was definitely an off-quarter for me. I didn't make anything."
As West Oktibbeha kept Okolona's star player in check, the Timberwolves built their game-changing run over the course of the first 4 minutes of the fourth quarter.
In that span, West Oktibbeha outscored the Chieftans 22-5 to take their first lead since being up 4-2 just moments after the contest's opening tip.
As impressive as the Timberwolves' offensive unit was during their blindingly-hot stretch, Dantaveous Crawford was just as impressive keeping Gardner locked down.
"We're not scared of anybody," said Dantaveous Crawford. "They could bring (Los Angeles Lakers star) Kobe Bryant in here and I'm going to beat him up. It don't matter."
Okolona head coach Bobby Ford didn't believe the game's outcome had as much to do with Gardner slowing down as it did with the craziness of the final few seconds.
With possession of the ball and trailing 75-74, Ford tried to get his team a timeout as the final seconds ticked off the clock. It was never called as West Oktibbeha regained possession allowing Aaron Brownlee cap the night's scoring by going the length of the floor for a game-ending layup.
"I was trying to get the timeout," said Ford. "I couldn't understand it. The official told me that we didn't have the ball, but we had the ball. We end up missing the shot."
Adding to the confusion, the scoreboard displayed the score as 75-75, though West Oktibbeha actually held its one-point advantage.
"I looked up and the score was wrong," said Ford. "That threw me for a loop. I had two timeouts in my pocket and was playing it down to the end, but the score just threw me. I think that's because you've got kids up there (running the scoreboard). You really need adults up there."
Through the confusion, the deficits and the star players however, it was West Oktibbeha left standing in the end.
"We knew who we were up against," said West Oktibbeha's Von Smith who scored 18 points. "Our main focus wasn't on (Gardner), but then again it was on him. We had to not let him show off too bad."
As a result, Crawford's Timberwolves improved to 12-1 on their home floor and now sit in the driver's seat of Class A, Region 4 after downing the Chieftans.
"I told my kids in the locker room, 'Down goes Frazier,'" said Coach Crawford. "I enjoyed every minute of this."
West Oktibbeha 72,
MABEN – Shamia Robinson scored 25 points and three other West Oktibbeha players tallied double-figures in the scoring column in a dominant win over Okolona.
"It's good when the way you practice, the way you draw it up, they finally execute it like that," said West Oktibbeha coach Kevin Bailey. "It's the first time this season I can say that we actually went through the gameplan.
"Pound the ball to the post, play good defense, hustle and don't give up easy layups."
Brittany Jones scored 19 points, Jaslynn Bedford tallied 12 and Brenesha Brownlee added 11 for the Lady Timberwolves who improved to 14-8 overall and 4-0 in Class A, Region 4.
Okolona was led in scoring by Quinndella Ford's 18 points.
The Lady Chieftans fell to 6-10 overall and 2-2 in Class A, Region 4.