Out of their element, playing a physical foreign tour team, and barely clinging to a slim lead, the Kilgore Bulldogs got two words of advice from coach Jerry Timmons: “Be patient.”
Kilgore, on the court at Kilgore College’s Masters Gymnasium for the first time in decades, did exactly that, making just enough baskets down the stretch to hold off a fundamentally-strong Southern Australia team, 59-55. It was the first game of the renewed Oil Belt Classic, a tournament that dates back a long time, but one that’s been dormant for many years.
Kilgore (4-4 on the season so far) also beat Pine Tree, 73-69, in double overtime, on Thursday night on their own floor as part of the tournament. The Bulldogs were to play Marshall on Friday, following the deadline for this print edition. See an update on kilgorenewsherald.com right now.
The tournament will conclude today with the championship game, scheduled for an 8:30 p.m. start at Masters Gym.
Leading the bigger Southern Australia team, 27-21, at halftime, Kilgore had to withstand a big-time defensive performance from the Aussies. Australia had a pair of post players -- Kyle Leslie and Dylan Olley -- that did a good job of owning the paint, and grabbing rebounds.
“We (eventually) did,” Timmons laughed, “but it took us a little bit to realize we could be faster and that we would be more athletic. We’re going to probably be faster and more athletic than about 99 percent of the teams we play.”
Olley, the son of coach Glenn Olley, grabbed 10 rebounds in the second half alone -- as a team, Australia had a whopping 51 rebounds in the game, to Kilgore’s 28.
But Timmons’ team was using a slash-and-dash type approach, with players like Octavian McKee and Deiontrae Wheat, both having just came over from the Bulldogs’ football program after their playoff run.
McKee, in particular, was strong in the second half, just darting to the basket and shifting his shoulder, making Australian players have to decide whether to try and step into his shot and foul him, or allow the basket. McKee continued that move throughout the second half, and finished as Kilgore’s leading scorer, with 16 points, 13 in the second half.
“We’ve tried some different things (with McKee), but sometimes, you’ve got to just let an athlete move, and do what he does,” Timmons said. “He’s playing big for us right now.”
Another player who turned in a good performance against the Australian team was Nick Hooper -- Hooper didn’t score, and had two rebounds. But Timmons said he was a big difference.
“His defense was one of the biggest reasons we won that game,” Timmons noted.
Although not by a big margin, Kilgore led almost the entire contest. A bucket by Australa’s Armin Kasler brought his team within one, 39-38, with 6:07 to play, but Kilgore senior Elijah Williams grabbed a pass and put it right back almost immediately, giving the Bulldogs back a three-point edge. It was that kind of game most of the way: Kilgore with the speed, the Aussies with the size.
Finally, with 1:42 left, Australia’s Nicholas Demaio got his team within three, 51-48, but Kilgore’s Seth Thomas made back-to-back baskets, one of them off a steal, to give the Bulldogs a 53-48 lead that Australia couldn’t answer.
A basket by Tom Graham got the Aussies within three, 58-55, with eight seconds left, but Australia was forced to foul. Kilgore’s Sam Kosel knocked down one of two free throws, but one was enough: it gave the Bulldogs a four-point lead, so even hitting a long-distance three-pointer would do Australia no good; they did put up a shot as time expired, but it didn’t fall, and Kilgore had won, 59-55.
McKee led with 16 points and also had three rebounds and an assist. Thomas finished with 15 points, five rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals. Wheat scored 12, grabbed eight rebounds and had two steals, and Jeremiah Hoskins was good for six points, a rebound and an assist.
Also for Kilgore, Kossel had four points, a rebound and two steals; Williams and Nesba Brown each had three points -- Brown had three rebounds, a steal and an assist, and Williams had one of each.
Kilgore took far more free throws; the Bulldogs were 14-of-26 from the line, and Australia just 4-of-7. Kilgore made the most of the fast-paced approach -- the Bulldogs scored 25 points off Australian turnovers. The Bulldogs were 22-of-60 in shooting (36 percent) in the game.
Australia was led by Olley and Graham, with 17 points each. Olley had 19 rebounds; Leslie, who scored four points, had 10. Demaio finished with six; Jarrod Abott had five, and Kasler, four.
Missing three-point shots really hurt the Australian team. They went 1-of-14 from downtown.
In the Bulldogs’ double-overtime win over Pine Tree on Thursday night on the ‘Dogs’ home court, Timmons had to bring his team back to reality a bit when Pine Tree got on a run and tied the game, eventually sending it to overtime.
“They started getting their heads down,” the coach said. “I told them, the ones who played football, that they didn’t let getting down 7, or 14, bother them then, and they didn’t need to on a court, either. They settled down, and then began to realize we were in our house and we took care of business.”
McKee was huge, finishing with 26 points and 13 rebounds. Wheat had 13 rebounds and three assists, and Hoskins had 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals. Hoskins hit a key fourth-quarter three-pointer to tie the game.
After the Oil Belt tournament ends, the Bulldogs will host Tatum on Tuesday night, a 5 p.m. freshmen game start with junior varsity and varsity afterward. That will be the last action before the Christmas break. Kilgore will play in the annual Wagstaff Classic at Tyler Junior College after Christmas, starting Dec. 28.
District play doesn’t start for KHS until Jan. 12, at Chapel Hill.
Kilgore's Lady Bulldogs (8-9 this season) were to visit Rains on Friday, following the deadline for this print edition, and then are off until after Christmas.