SHAWNEE, OKLA — The Potawatomi Fire took a big step on their staircase of lofty season goals Thursday night. The second-year TBL franchise won the TBL Central Conference regular season crown with a 118-105 victory over the Wichita SkyKings. The win was the 20th for the Fire this season against just three losses, which were all on the road. The win also clinched the number one seed in the Central Conference portion of the TBL playoffs.
Deshawn Munson led the Fire with 27 points and 13 rebounds to go along with three assists and two steals. Munson was one of three Fire players to record double-doubles along with Chuck Guy, who tallied 14 points, 12 assists, and four steals; and K.D. Moore, who had 11 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists.
Also in double figures for the Fire was Paul Harrison with 18 points and four boards. Lyle Hexom had 14 points, five assists, and four rebounds. T.J. Maston had 13 points and six rebounds while the newest Fire player, Ricky Artis, had 13 points and three rebounds.
Fire head coach Mark Dannhoff was thrilled with the team win. “I just thought that Chuck did an amazing job running the game tonight, keeping this team focused. Getting buckets when we need it, getting an assist when we need it, and being an organ, keeping the guys where they needed to be. I thought Munson really stepped up with an outstanding job on the glass and scoring, especially late. Then K.D. Moore with rebounding and his defense and Lyle Hexom’s shooting and defense. Everybody just did great, it’s hard to point out just 1, 2, or 3 guys because it was a total team effort tonight. The last thing we said leaving the locker room was ‘Let’s go win as a team.'”
The Fire (20-3) led for nearly the entire game, once the SkyKings tied the contest at 3-3. After that, it was nine-point lead for the Fire after the first quarter and again by that margin at the half (59-50). Wichita trimmed the deficit to 81-77 after three quarters. The Fire then opened the game up in the final frame to win by the final 118-105 score.
While the two teams were equal in three-point shooting (both 8/29 for 28%), the Fire held a big edge in points in the paint at 72-54. That edge more than overcame their deficit at the foul line, where the Fire made just 12 of 22 compared to 17 of 20 for the SkyKings. Potawatomi handed out 28 assists, compared to 19 for Wichita. Wichita did dominate in bench scoring, outgunning the Fire reserves 67-39.
Wichita (18-7) had five players in double figures, led by Kam Williams with 21 points. Dion Wright also had 19 points for the visitors.
Dannhoff commented after the win on how the team views this step in their goals. “You know it’s part of the entire staircase, “ he said. “And we still have more steps but what I will say is I’m blessed — this team is blessed. We’ve got great ownership from Citizen Potawatomi Nation. We’ve got the backing of a very supportive chairman and vice chairman. We’ve got a general manager and TMO who is behind us 100% every single day. We’ve got an outstanding coaching staff that comes to work every day. And then we’ve got 13 guys in that locker room right now who’ve worked extremely hard for 3.5 months to accomplish this. Now we’ve still got work to do on Saturday because that’s who we are. But I could not be more proud of that group in the locker room and we certainly are blessed to be where we are today.”
One regular season game remains for the Fire and that will be Saturday night when they host the Little Rock Lightning at 7 p.m. A Fire win in that game gives them the Central crown outright as they own the tiebreaker over second place Shreveport. The Fire took three out of four meetings this season from the defending champion Mavericks.
Though the complete TBL Playoffs bracket will not be finished until this weekend’s games are completed, the Fire will be the number one seed in the Central bracket and will visit the winner of the first round play-in game between Enid and Little Rock. That game will most likely be played on Thursday, June 1, with the Fire hosting game two and if needed game three on Saturday and Sunday. The other Central second round matchup will feature Shreveport and Wichita.
BOX SCORE: FIRE 118, SKYKINGS 103
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