SHAWNEE, OKLA — The Central Conference regular season champion Potawatomi Fire rolled to victory over the Little Rock Lightning, 133-100, behind a record-setting barrage from outside and behind the reigning TBL MVP Deshawn Munson. Munson notched his third triple-double (and 15th double-double) of the year with 19 points, 15 rebounds, and 14 assists, proving again why he’s one of the premier players in all of TBL. The Fire had a team record 18 three-pointers, breaking the previous team high of 16 treys, set two different times in 2022. The Fire (21-3) also finished the regular season unbeaten at FireLake Arena, going 13-0 in 2023 after winning 12 of 15 in their first season.
Ruston Hayward also had a double-double with 19 points and 15 rebounds, sharing the team highs for points and rebounds with Munson. The Fire had six players total in double figures, including Chuck Guy and Darin Johnson, who also each had 19 points. Guy recorded another stellar all-around stat line, with 19 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and two steals. DJ’s points primarily came from outside as he knocked five three-pointers. Tevin Foster was on fire for the Fire in the second quarter as the home team pulled away. Foster also knocked down five triples for his 15 points. Paul Harrison also added 17 points off the bench. Theo Johnson and Lyle Hexom each had eight points for the Fire.
What was a close game after one quarter with the gritty Little Rock squad leading 29-28, turned into a blowout by halftime behind three point shooting from Tevin Foster. Foster hit four of his five treys in an amazing 70-second blitz in the late second quarter that saw the game go from the Fire leading 51-48 to up 63-48 with 2:25 remaining in the period. The Fire would lead 68-50 at the half and 90-74 after three quarters. A 17-point edge in the closing frame pushed the final margin to 33 points.
The Fire would set their team record for three-point shooting on 42 attempts (43%). They also dominated in bench scoring, with 80 points to the Lightning’s 26 points. The Fire had a big edge in fast break points, doubling up the Lightning at 38-19.
Jacquil Taylor and Taylin Banks led the Lightning (8-13) with 20 points each. Taylor also had a team-high 16 points.
In the last few days, TBL has announced All-Conference recognition for each of the four conferences. The Fire had three players selected. All-Star guard Chuck Guy, who ranks second in assists per game (9.8) and is tied for fourth in steals (3.0), was named to the All-Central First Team. Guy is again this year a strong contender for league MVP. Forward K.D. Moore, who stands fifth in TBL in field goal percentage (61.6%), was selected to the All-Central Third Team. The 2022 TBL MVP and two-time All-Star Munson was named to the Second Team, despite having strong numbers once again in 2023 and also a strong contender for MVP. His stats aren’t as eye-popping as in his MVP campaign of a year ago, but that’s primarily because the Fire have considerably more talent around him.
“First and foremost, I was proud of Deshawn on the way he came out tonight, played extremely hard, shared the basketball, got after it defensively, and rebounded,” said head coach Mark Dannhoff after the contest. “Whether we agree with it or not, there’s not a whole lot we can say in reference to the TBL about the All-Conference teams. This team made a commitment early in the year that they were going to sacrifice all personal honors and accolades for this team to win a regular season championship and beyond if that is something that we are able to achieve.”
“Tevin was terrific off the bench and he really got it going on offense. He’s a grinder and a worker who is always ready when his name is called,” Dannhoff continued. “I thought Ruston was really good off the bench defensively getting us going in the second quarter. His offense picked up off his defense. It was a really good night for everybody and a good way to finish the regular season.”
While Coach Dannhoff is unable to really speak on the All-Conference team decision, Munson certainly made a statement with his play, both on Saturday night and really throughout the season. Munson recorded his third triple-double vs Little Rock and has just missed out on others on several occasions. As a 6-4 guard, he stands tied for third in the entire league in total rebounds: 12 per game which is just a half a board behind the leader (Ethan Chargois of Enid with 12.5, who is on the All-Central First Team) and ahead of many post players receiving recognition. Munson also ranks sixth in average assists per game with 7.6. Due to the talent and balance across the Fire roster, the scoring totals for all of their players have gone down. But Munson still leads the Fire in points per game with 18.6 ppg, one of EIGHT Fire players averaging double figures, with two others going for over nine points per game. A strong argument supported by statistical comparisons could be made that the Fire deserved more than three players to receive league recognition.
The Fire now await the winner of Tuesday’s play-in game between #4 Enid and #5 Little Rock. The Fire will likely travel to the winner of that game for game one of the second round of the TBL Playoffs on Thursday night, June 1. The first home playoff for the Fire will likely be Saturday night, June 3 from FireLake Arena. Be sure to check social media and potawatomifire.com for more details on playoff tickets. Playoff tickets will be available once the full schedule is announced by TBL. Fire season ticket holders have this round of playoffs included in their season ticket package.
ABOUT THE FIRE AND THE BASKETBALL LEAGUE
The Potawatomi Fire concluded their first TBL (The Basketball League) season in June 2022, winning 21 of 29 games played including the playoffs. They were 18-6 in the regular season to earn the third seed in the Central Conference portion of the playoffs. They won their first round playoff series before falling in the conference semifinal round. The Fire are the first professional basketball team owned by a Native American tribe (Citizen Potawatomi Nation) in Oklahoma. The Fire compete in the Central Conference of TBL, a men’s professional basketball league, now with nearly 50 teams in over 20 different states across the U.S. and Canada. The Fire organization was named the 2022 winner of the Jim Koch Award as TBL’s Best Ran Business, despite the Fire being a first-year franchise. The dance team of the Fire, the Fire Girls, were named Best Dance Team.
The TBL season begins in February and runs through June, concluding with a championship playoff tournament. The players that make up the rosters of the TBL teams are former NCAA (Division I, II or III) or NAIA athletes. Many have played in the NBA or NBA’s developmental G-League as well as professionally overseas for several years and are continuing their careers closer to home or seeking a larger contract in another professional league.
Story by Justin Wollard • Photo by Landon Kidney