The ever-improving Ardmore girls may have just played their best game yet.
Mychshyea Taylor scored 20 of her 22 points after halftime, and the Tigers' defense held McAlester to four field goals in the second half to beat the Buffaloes 71-62 on Friday. Ardmore (5-3) took the lead for good in a one-sided third quarter in which it outscored McAlester 20-10.
With leading scorer Kaleisha Johnson forced to the bench with four fouls, the Buffaloes, ranked No. 13 in Class 5A, managed only one basket from the field in the third. The rest of McAlester's points in the third came from the stripe, which helped Ardmore rally from a two-point deficit at halftime to an eight-point lead entering the final period.
Patrice Bennett scored 18 points and Trelynn Cohee had 16 for the Tigers, who finished the week 2-0 after defeating Durant 59-52 on Tuesday.
"Tonight we really got to the rack," Ardmore coach Kevin Kelly said. "We finished strong, we made some free throws and we wanted to make sure we were the aggressive team tonight.
"We knew it was going to be a tough load. Those two girls (Johnson and Meredith Saunier) can really score the basketball. I thought we did a great job defensively."
Johnson was dominant early for McAlester, scoring 19 of the Buffaloes' 33 points in the first half, but was held to just eight after the break due to foul trouble and Ardmore's hounding defense.
Saunier scored 16 points, and Shattee Robinson had nine points and 13 rebounds for McAlester. Despite committing 32 fouls, Ardmore's in-your-face defense and depth paid off, forcing McAlester into 14 turnovers in the final two periods.
McAlester finished 29-of-45 on free throws, scoring 19 of its 28 second-half points from the stripe.
"Being an aggressive basketball team, we're gonna get ourselves in trouble that way," Kelly said of the volume of fouls committed. "Just as long as we continue to attack the bucket, defensively make some adjustments, I think we've got a chance to be a pretty darn good defensive team."
Bennett sparked the Tigers out of the break. The 5-1 senior tied the game at 33-all on a jumper, then ripped the ball away under the McAlester basket for an easy bucket to tie the game again at 35-35.
Johnson replied on the other end with a basket and the foul, canning the free throw to put McAlester back ahead by 3. But Bennett's one-hander in the lane on the other end cut the deficit to 1 and Destinee Howell went coast-to-coast on Armore's next possession to put the Tigers ahead for the first time 39-37 — a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Johnson, who finished with a game-high 27 points, went to the bench shortly after at the 5:16 mark. Ardmore capitalized, closing the quarter on a 12-4 run.
"I think we stepped up as a team," said freshman guard Kyla Stapleton, who finished with five points and three rebounds. "It got a little intense. I think it was the best game we've played because we all played as a team."
When Bennett fouled out in the fourth, Taylor, who has come off the bench in Ardmore's last two wins, took control of the offense in the final period.
McAlester cut Ardmore's lead to six in the fourth, but Taylor found Kerra Day (six points, five rebounds) for an open jumper and scored on the next possession to up Ardmore's lead to 59-47.
On the Tigers' next time down the floor, Taylor hit a dagger 3-pointer — part of an 8-1 run — to stretch Ardmore's lead to 62-48.
Cohee came off the bench to hit four 3-pointers, and Kelly was able to go 11 players deep to keep the pressure on McAlester's shooters.
"We don't fall off at spots," Kelly said. "Girls know what they're supposed to do when they go in.
"They know their strengths, they know their weaknesses, they know what I expect out of them. Everybody contributed, they did a great job and I'm extremely proud of them."