With Ardmore's double-digit lead whittled down to nothing, Dre Johnson wanted the ball in his hands.
It's a situation he loves: the final shot. The senior made it count against McAlester.
"I've always wanted that chance," Johnson said.
Johnson scored a game-high 19 points, including the go-ahead layup with 3 seconds left to lift Ardmore over McAlester 48-46 on Friday. With quite possibly their finest display of fast-break basketball all season, the Tigers (4-3) outscored the Buffaloes 18-0 in the second quarter to offset any size advantage McAlester had.
But when the Buffaloes opened up the fourth quarter on an 8-0 run, the again undermanned Tigers had to hold on in the final minutes.
That meant going back to Johnson, the most experienced player Ardmore has left from last year's state tournament team.
"Dre's playing with a whole new team, an entirely new team," Wilson said. "He's done a great job of being patient with them. He's got to do so much because he's the only guy back with any experience."
Kevion McGee scored 11 points, Anthony Willis returned from illness to score five and Chantz White and O.J. Walker each scored four for Ardmore. Walker, a freshman, had to fill in for an Ardmore lineup that was shorthanded again, with players missing due to sickness and ineligibility.
White soldiered on through sickness to pull down five rebounds, tying him with Johnson for the team lead in a game where the Tigers were beat 31-17 on the glass. If McAlester had any advantage, it was in the height department, as the Buffaloes went to burly post man Darrion Brown early and late.
Jalen Erving led McAlester with 18 points and Brown added 14 for the Buffaloes. Brown scored six of McAlester's 10 points in the first quarter, powering his way to easy buckets down low, but Ardmore switched to a 2-3 zone to start the second quarter and got out running at every opportunity.
"We can play that pace with nine guys, we've just got to have nine healthy guys," Wilson said.
McAlester had no answer for Ardmore in the second. Fresh off the bench, Walker canned a 3-pointer and Willis followed with another to put Ardmore ahead 16-10.
On the other end, Jeff Surrell took a charge from Brown, and the one advantage McAlester had was nullified. In the second quarter, Ardmore forced more turnovers (six) than points allowed.
"At the beginning of the game, we were in man and we couldn't stop them," Johnson said. "It was hard guarding 21 (Brown). The 2-3 zone helped us a lot."
The Tigers tried to keep the pace going after halftime, but errant shots and a strong quarter from Erving cut the lead to 38-26 after three periods. McAlester carried over that momentum into the fourth, scoring the first eight points and reestablishing Brown down low.
Page 2 of 2 - Brown scored back-to-back buckets inside to bring McAlester to within two points at 46-44. On the next possession for the Buffaloes, Zac Skimbo was fouled from 3-point range and made 2-of-3 from the free-throw line with 33.5 seconds to go, tying the game at 46-all.
Wilson had Johnson dribble the clock down to 12.4 seconds before calling a timeout to set up the final play. Out of the timeout, Johnson drove left and scored at the rim, and Erving's desperation 3 missed everything.
After the final buzzer sounded, Wilson calmly wrapped his arms around Johnson at midcourt. His teammates followed suit.
"The things he does for us ... nobody else can do," Wilson said. "He's playing 28 minutes and made some tough shots."
Erik K. Horne