After losing head coach, Brahman basketball bounces back with two big wins

OKEECHOBEE — After suffering their first loss of the season to Fort Pierce Central on Dec. 11, the Okeechobee Brahman boys varsity basketball team knocked out two back-to-back wins to increase their record to 8-1.

Okeechobee beat Heritage 73-53 on Dec. 14 and followed that up with a 68-46 victory over Lake Worth Christian the very next day on Dec. 15. The win over Heritage makes Okeechobee a perfect 3-0 in district games so far this year.

OHS senior J-Quan Ferrol cuts between two Heritage defenders in the second half of Okeechobee’s 73-53 win on Dec. 14. Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion.

The two wins will help Okeechobee go into the Christmas break with some positive momentum as they prepare to start the second half of their season and what they hope will be a deep playoff run.

In early December Brahmans head coach Demetre Riles announced he would be leaving the team to spend more time with his wife who has been battling cancer and that the Dec. 12 game against South Fork would be his last with the team. OHS athletic director Kenny Buckner took over Riles’ spot as the interim coach with assistance from Brahmans junior varsity coach Deforest Shanks and Lady Brahmans coach Jovanny Torres.

Interim head coach and OHS athletic director Kenny Buckner watches his team from courtside during the Okeechobee Heritage game on Dec. 14. Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion.

“Demetre is just a great guy,” said Torres of the former Brahman head coach. “Everything I do comes from him, I’ve learned everything from him. Not only basketball-wise, but also just as a man he has helped me grow. The varsity team is gonna miss having his presence around.”

In Okeechobee’s first game without Riles courtside, the Brahmans fell 59-38 to Fort Pierce Central.

Following that game, the Brahmans hosted the Heritage Panthers with a chance to prove they could still be a dangerous team in the absence of coach Riles.

But the Panthers weren’t going to make it easy.

Heritage opened the game with some great passes that let them get behind the Okeechobee defense again and again. After some late Okeechobee turnovers in the second quarter, the Panthers led 27-26 at halftime. Heritage came into the game with only two wins on the year, so if they could hold on and actually win it might be one of the bigger upsets this year.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, Okeechobee came out in the second half and dominated Heritage, especially in the fourth quarter where the Brahmans out scored the Panthers 30-10.

The Brahman defense in the fourth quarter stymied the Panthers offense at every turn, much to the dismay of Heritage head coach Stephen Link who could be seen throwing his clipboard to the ground multiple times late in the game.

“We just wore them down,” explained interim coach Buckner. “We put in a press defense and you could tell that frustrated Heritage. Our kids played great. They’ve been able to get over the whole deal with Demetre leaving and you could tell in the practices leading up to this game that they were going to play well. Maybe a little sluggish there in the beginning, but we made a great run at the end to finish it.”

OHS senior J-Quan Ferrol had 15 points and five rebounds against the Panthers while senior Jemal Davis had 22 points and six rebounds.

Buckner says that right now the plan is to bring back former JV boys coach Raymond Collins to take over varsity head coaching duties. Buckner says that although there is no official timeline on when Collins will step in, he expects the process to be finalized after the Christmas break.

Collins had a 59-27 record with the JV team through his four seasons as head coach, including a 18-1 record in his last season in 2017-18.

Okeechobee has one more game to play before they’re off two weeks for Christmas break.

The Brahmans will travel to face the 4-3 Martin County Tigers on Dec. 20.

The Tigers are coming off a huge overtime upset win over St. John Paul II in the Tyler Biggens Classic at Tallahassee Godby High on Dec. 15. St. John Paul was ranked third in the state of Florida in its class coming into that game compared to Martin County which was ranked 47th in its class overall. Okeechobee is currently ranked 23rd in the state in its class.

That win shows that despite Martin County coming into the game with a worse record at 4-3, the Tigers have the ability to rise to the occasion against tough opponents.

“We’re going to work on the press defense that we’ve put in, along with some man to man,” said Buckner of the Brahmans plans to prepare for Martin County. “We’re only going to be as good as our big guys. And that’s not a knock on our little guys because they’re important too. But when the big guys play good, everybody else plays good.”

The ‘big guys’ Buckner is referring to are the 6-foot-7-inch Jemal Davis and the 6-foot-6-inch J-Quan Ferrol. Davis earned this week’s Big Lake Athlete of the Week honors for his performance during the Brahmans’ last few games.

Tip-off for the Martin County game is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. on Dec. 20.

See also, athlete of the week, Jemal Davis.

Richard Marion is a staff writer and photographer at Lake Okeechobee News and can be reached at rmarion@newszap.com.

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