Third-ranked Harrah missed four straight free throws Friday before Markeisha Black drove to the basket nearly uncontested and hit a layup to give No. 6 Ada a three-point lead late in the fourth quarter.
Ada head coach Christie Jennings and the Ada contingent in the crowd thought for a moment that Harrah had committed a turnover on the Lady Panthers’ next trip down the court. But one of the three officials overruled his partner, and Harrah kept that possession. Coach Curt Knox called time out with 2:30 remaining.
Darian Hill drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key for Harrah following the timeout to start a game-changing 8-0 run and help the Lady Panthers secure a 39-34 victory.
“It was two really good teams that had done a really good job of scouting each other,” Jennings said. “We have a great opportunity to learn from this. If they’re the third best team in the state, then we’re right there. We just have to keep working hard to get ourselves to that level.”
Shanna Visnieski followed Hill’s 3-pointer with an old-fashioned 3-point play with 1:36 left to break a 32-all tie. Hill then made two free throws to give the visitors a 37-32 lead.
Olivia Wells scored in the lane to get Ada within 37-34, but two more Hill charity shots with only 7.3 seconds remaining iced the game for the talented Lady Panthers. Hill finished with 14 points and was a perfect 8-of-8 from the free-throw line.
Ada hit just 4-of-19 field goals in the first half and trailed 18-11 at the break after a Visnieski 3-pointer with time running out in the second quarter.
“We kind of shut down each other's strengths for a little bit. The first half I’m sure, as a fan, was ugly to watch. It was a very good defensive struggle,” Jennings said. “We didn’t finish very well. I was a little disappointed because we have been finishing inside the paint. Even against good teams, we’ve been shooting a really good percentage. We just didn’t finish well inside.”
The Lady Cougars put the defensive clamps on Harrah to start the third quarter, holding the Lady Panthers scoreless for over four minutes. But during that span, Ada managed just four points from Aaliyah Blakley — a coast-to-coast basket after a rebound and two free throws to get within 18-15.
Harrah led 23-18 with just over two minutes left in the third before Sami Jewett hit one of her three 3-pointers to start a 7-2 run that included two free throws by Haley Dean and a putback by Wells that knotted the score at 25-25 heading into the exciting fourth quarter.
“We came out in the second half and did what we needed to do. We put some pressure on them and kind of got going offensively,” Jennings said.
The Ada coach said she felt like the slugfest will pay dividends down the road.
“It was very physical. I thought the refs really kind of let you earn the game,” Jennings said. “The best thing is, it’s January and we’re still playing for March.”
After hosting Duncan on Saturday, Ada entertains rival McAlester on Tuesday before traveling to Durant on Friday.