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The 2018-19 basketball season has been going strong — for most area teams — since early November. By now, teams throughout the state of Oklahoma have had an opportunity to see just how good they can be in their respective classes and have figured out what works well and what doesn’t.
It’s a learning process for some, especially for those teams that lost a lot of seniors to graduation earlier this year. For others, it has been business as usual.
Such is the case with the Duke Tigers basketball team.
A year ago, the Tigers posted a 26-4 record and made it all the way to the Class B state tournament. An overtime, 67-64, heartbreaking loss to Calumet ended their season for good, but it never broke their spirits.
Fast forward to the 2018-19 basketball season and you’d find that the Duke Tigers are hungrier than ever. Currently 10-0, the Tigers have been ripping through Class B basketball with ease. Duke’s closest game was against Snyder in the finals of the Geronimo Dome Classic on Dec. 8, but the Tigers never folded and escaped Geronimo with the win, 57-53, and the championship.
Much can be said about the way this team works together as a unified front, staring down their toughest competitors and sending each team home with a loss on its record. Rarely does one get an opportunity to experience a completely dominant brand of basketball such as the one conducted by coach Nick Gable and his players.
With big wins against some of the state’s top teams, it’s hard to imagine the Tigers slowing down anytime soon. The game that started it all was an 18-point season opening win over the 20th-ranked Indiahoma Warriors.
The sixth-ranked Big Pasture Rangers were supposed to be Duke’s toughest opponent on the schedule, and the Tigers ran through the Rangers with ease, winning by 31 points. One month later, Duke remains the only team to have beaten the 12-1 Rangers.
Then came 10th-ranked Granite and a 26-point dismantling at the hands of the Tigers which was followed by a, 69-62, win over Class 2A’s 11th-ranked Hobart Bearcats on Hobart’s home court.
What makes Duke so scary is that they are still a relatively young team. Noah Claussen and Tommy McGee are the team’s only seniors, and Gable said both have made the team what it is today.
“Tommy and Noah,” Gable said, “are our leaders, and they do a great job of opening up the floor with their outside shooting.”
Claussen is averaging 15.3 points per game and a big reason for that has been because of his ability to hit shots from deep at a 40 percent rate. McGee is averaging 12.1 points and seven rebounds per game and is right there with Claussen on makes from the three-point line — 40.3 percent.
Both are top scorers in the Tigers’ offense but they are far from being the only threats on Duke’s roster.
Juniors Dawson Brooks and Matt Milner have been virtually unstoppable as well with Brooks averaging 11.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game and Milner averaging 13.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. Additionally, sophomore Gage Milner is averaging 6.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, but that’s just the starting five.
Coming off the bench is junior Mason Rice who is averaging 8.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, and two other players have have had limited roles but have still made big contributions, according to Gable.
“Junior Daniel Tamplen,” Gable said, “and sophomore Cole Claussen have played huge roles in our eight-man rotation. Our juniors and sophomores provide us with the ball handling and size to make our team extremely balanced.
“We have a lot of great players, and this is just a fun group of kids who play with everything they have.”
Giving it everything they have includes averaging 74.1 points per game on offense and giving up just 43.5 points per game on defense. The Tigers have been an unstoppable force since the season began, and now, at 10-0, Duke has worked its way up the rankings and is ranked second in Class B boys basketball.
A, 77-38, win over Cement on Dec. 14 marked the last bit of action of 2018 for Duke, but the Tigers will resume play on Jan. 4 when they host Blair at 8 p.m.