Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion
OHS senior Kimani Mcintosh maneuvers around a Dillard player. The Panthers played a physical and aggressive game against the Brahmans.
By all accounts, when the Okeechobee Brahmans varsity basketball team stepped onto the court to face the Dillard Panthers in the regional quarterfinal of the state tournament on Feb. 21, they were the underdogs.
Dillard is ranked as one the top teams in Florida and makes yearly appearances in the state tournament, including when they won it all back in 2016-17. Okeechobee is ranked a full one hundred spots behind Dillard in the state ranking and has only won its district once in the past 28 years. And two years ago, when the Brahmans last earned a ticket to the regional tournament, they were blown out in a 70-27 loss to this same Dillard team.
But this 2018-19 Brahmans team has played all year like they were no one’s underdogs, and shortly after tip-off the Panthers quickly realized that this wasn’t the same team they bulldozed through in the playoffs just a few years ago.
Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion
OHS senior Ky'Ode Walters hit two crucial free throws to send the regional quarterfinal into overtime.
Instead of pulling away in the early minutes, the Panthers found themselves neck-and-neck with the Brahmans, as each team traded baskets in the first quarter. It wasn’t until the middle of the second quarter that Dillard was able to mount what would be its widest lead of the game, leading OHS 17-13.
The Panthers played aggressively against the Brahmans, pushing and being physical with the Okeechobee players whenever possible. But that physical play would spark an Okeechobee rally before halftime.
With two minutes left in the first half, a Dillard player elbowed OHS senior Jemal Davis in the face as he tried to push Davis out of the way under the Panthers’ basket. Davis fell after taking the hit, but popped back up immediately. The foul incensed the loud home crowd and brought even more energy into the packed gymnasium. Eventually, the referees picked up on the Dillard players’ aggressive play and started calling fouls on the Panthers. The Brahmans took advantage of the free throws and went on a 10-point run to take a 23-17 lead at halftime.
The energy was electric in the OHS gymnasium. Before the game, the line to enter the gym had stretched all the way into the parking lot. A few Dillard faithful had made the trip to support their team, but by and large it was Brahman supporters sitting in the bleachers courtside. It appeared the loud and energetic home crowd had an effect on the Panthers, as they missed many crucial shots when they stepped up to the free throw line.
In the early minutes of the third quarter, Dillard was able to work their way back into the game and near the end, they led the Brahmans 33-31. But a Jemal Davis three-pointer would give Okeechobee a 34-31 lead again right as the third quarter ended.
By the end of the fourth quarter, things looked dire for the Brahmans as Dillard was able to take a 40-38 lead. But the Brahmans got their chance to tie the game when OHS senior Ky'Ode Walters was fouled and had the opportunity to tie the game on two free throws. With the eyes of the entire gymnasium on him, Walters proceeded to hit both of his free throws and send the game into overtime.
Overtime played out much like regulation did, with both team trading baskets in a wild back-and-forth. But it was Dillard that took the lead 43-41 with 20 seconds to go.
Okeechobee still had some magic up its sleeve, though. OHS senior Kimani Mcintosh swung the ball out to fellow senior J-Quan Ferrol, who proceeded to hit a clutch three-pointer with 14 seconds remaining to put the Brahmans up 44-43.
But teams such as Dillard are highly ranked for a reason. After a timeout the Panthers regrouped and were able to drive to their basket to put in a lay-up and take the lead 45-44. There were still 3 seconds left on the clock after the Panther score, but it wasn’t enough time and the Brahmans fell to the Panthers despite a heroic effort.
The Brahmans now finish their season with a 23-5 record, one of the best the team has had in recent years.