The Oklahoman

Looking back at 10 state tournament highlights

- Hallie Hart and James D. Jackson

For Oklahoma high school basketball enthusiast­s, March Madness arrives early in the month.

Between State Fair Arena, Lloyd Noble Center and Yukon High School, 98 state tournament games were packed into the past couple of weeks.

That's 392 quarters. More than 3,136 minutes (with several overtimes). And The Oklahoman's sports department was there to witness it all.

Upon initial reflection, it seems like an exciting, chaotic blur of buzzers blaring, sneakers squeaking and fans screaming as teams claimed their trophies. But each session of games was characteri­zed by unique, memorable moments — and, best of all, compelling human storylines. These tournament­s featured last-second heroics, emotional celebratio­ns and additions to the record books.

If we made a “One Shining Moment” reel from the Oklahoma high school basketball tournament­s, these highlights would appear in it.

1. Millwood makes history

The 17th championsh­ip set the record.

With a 56-53 win over Tulsa Metro Christian, Millwood secured a Class 3A boys basketball state title, making history with the most championsh­ips in Oklahoma high school hoops. The Falcons surpassed the Tulsa Booker T. Washington boys, a program that entered this postseason with 16.

Although the Falcons were playing without Rickey Hunt Jr., a star from last year's tournament team who is playing football at Ohio, they repeated as champions. Zyhir Fisher led Millwood with 17 points in the finals, Jaden Nickens added 12 and Carlos Strong made a major impact on defense.

2. Edmond North, Dale each claim two titles

Edmond North basketball fans had two reasons to celebrate Saturday in Lloyd Noble Center.

At State Fair Arena, Dale supporters were doing the same.

Class 6A Edmond North and Class 2A Dale were the two Oklahoma high schools with boys and girls basketball programs that won state titles this year. The Dale boys repeated as champions, and for the Huskies, the boys and girls claimed back-to-back trophies.

Both Edmond North squads showcased their resolve, rallying out of halftime deficits.

The usually-dominant girls team trailed Norman by as many as 13 points, but senior Elle Papahronis fueled the comeback with 30 points and 12 rebounds. Broken Arrow led the boys squad 32-28 at halftime, but juniors T.O. Barrett and Dylan Warlick powered the Huskies toward the gold ball, each scoring in double figures.

Dayton Forsythe was a force for Dale's boys basketball team, racking up 29 points in a 78-52 victory over Oklahoma Christian Academy in the finals.

With stout defense, Dale routed Howe 48-23 to secure its eighth girls basketball title and first since 2010. The Pirates held Howe to single digits in every quarter and forced the Lions to shoot just 7 of 41 (17.1%) from the floor.

3. Oklahoma State signees thrive in LNC

Several future Pokes had notable performanc­es in the home of the Sooners.

First, Cowgirl basketball signee Stailee Heard ended her high school career in stellar fashion. The senior guard poured in 41 points and hit an improvised buzzer-beater against Tulsa Holland Hall, securing the Sapulpa girls basketball team's Class 5A state title.

Then Cowboy basketball signee Brandon Garrison led Class 5A Del City on offense and defense, paving the way to the second title of his career. The McDonald's All-American stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks, showing why he's the topranked Oklahoma high school boys basketball recruit in his class.

Although he didn't win state, Broken Arrow senior Connor Dow also stood out in Lloyd Noble Center. The Oklahoma State signee averaged 15.7 points per game and played solid defense.

4. Mid-Del rivalry determines 5A champ

The Class 5A boys basketball finalists knew each other well.

Mid-Del Public Schools rivals Del City and Carl Albert met on Championsh­ip Saturday, and the environmen­t didn't disappoint as the enthusiast­ic fans were treated to an overtime showdown.

Del City defeated Carl Albert 52-44 during the regular season, but the postseason rematch was tighter. The Eagles and Titans engaged in a low-scoring, defensive showdown that ended with Garrison making the final basket of the 37-35 victory.

“When we got the game tied, I could just see it in their eyes that they'd been there before,” Del City coach Lenny Hatchett said, “and they knew what it took to try to get that lead and get a win.”

5. Valentine gives Choctaw something to remember

Ja'Mon Valentine put together a sequence that belongs in a movie.

The junior guard splashed a 3-pointer, stole the ball from Moore and made a layup in the final seconds of overtime, sending Choctaw into the Class 6A state semifinals with the buzzer-beater.

After his heroics, Valentine provided one of the best sound bites of the week, showing what the state tournament is all about.

“It's like (a) childhood dream right there,” Valentine said. “When you go outside practicing those type of shots, it's like what you want. That's your dream right there. That was my dream.”

Although the Yellowjack­ets couldn't pull off the semifinal upset against Edmond North, they left the state tournament with a memory that will forever be embedded in program lore.

6. OCA wins on buzzer beater after Preston comeback

For a majority of Oklahoma Christian Academy's and Preston's Class 2A boys semifinal matchup, there weren't many fireworks.

Behind Carson Thomas and Ca'Ron Banks, OCA rallied to an 18-point halftime lead and a 17-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter. But that's when it all changed.

Preston's Jervais Goree, Georgio Dunn and others began to collect steals and knock down 3-pointers to cut into the lead. With one minute left, Preston was down by eight. With 16.6 seconds left, Preston was down just three and had the ball. Goree knocked down a deep 3-pointer to send the game to overtime.

But OCA avoided the meltdown and Thomas made a putback score at the buzzer to send OCA to its first basketball state championsh­ip game.

7. Jones becomes 10th team to 3-peat

Four years ago, Jones advanced to its first girls basketball state tournament, but it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Longhorns didn't see the floor. Three years ago, Jones made its first appearance, going on to win the school's first girls' title in any sport with a 63-28 win over Roland. Last year, they became the first to repeat as a champion in any sport with a 65-41 win over Idabel.

This season, playing against a young and fiery Washington team, the Longhorns pulled through once again for their third consecutiv­e title with a 39-33 win. The championsh­ip win puts Jones in company with an elite group of girls basketball teams of all classes, becoming just the 10th team to three-peat and the first to do it in any sport from Jones. Other three-peats in girls basketball:

❚ Seiling: 2016-2019 (only 4-peat)

❚ Alva: 2014-2016

❚ Deer Creek: 2013-2015

❚ Sequoyah Tahlequah: 2005-2007

❚ Claremore: 2003-2005

❚ Dover: 2001-2003

❚ Lomega: 1987-1989

❚ Cheyenne: 1985-1987

❚ Byng: 1936-1938

8. Douglass back on top

Terry McMorris joined Douglass this season and head coach Steven Alexander joined a few years prior.

Either way, they were both pivotal to the Trojans' resurgence this year. After losing the third game of the season, Douglass rallied for 24 straight wins to earn a Class 4A state championsh­ip. Douglass edged Weatherfor­d 48-44 with clutch shooting and rebounding.

The title is Douglass' first boys basketball title since 2017, the last time the storied program was in the state tournament. After the six year drought, Douglass walks away with its 11th gold ball.

9. Bethany, Caddo earn first state championsh­ips

The Bethany girls and Caddo boys both made history, earning their first basketball state championsh­ips.

In Class A, Caddo knocked off Okay 58-51. Caddo star DJ Dill led the way and had 23 points. After putting the ball between his legs and dunking in warmups, Dill finished the game with two slams for the exclamatio­n point. Caddo coach Kolby Johnson also joined a small group of coaches to take both boys and girls teams to the state tournament in the same year.

In Class 4A, it was Bethany's first appearance in the state tournament and the Bronchos went all the way, taking down Tulsa Lincoln Christian 48-36 in the title game. Sophomore OU commit Keziah Lofton led the way with 21 points and seven rebounds.

10. Yukon offers great stage for 4A semis

The noise started ringing throughout Yukon's gym before noon Friday.

Bethany's and Tuttle's girls basketball teams were vying for a spot in the Class 4A state finals, and fans had packed the place.

Yukon's gym doesn't have the massive presence of Lloyd Noble Center or State Fair Arena, but a smaller venue brought a different charm to four tremendous 4A semifinal matchups.

Although we don't have attendance numbers, the high school gym environmen­t made it feel as if it were the most packed venue throughout the tournament­s, creating that illusion as fans gathered closer to the court. And the Class 6A school's venue was still roomy enough to accommodat­e substantia­l audiences.

 ?? Terry McMorris (24) and his Douglass teammates celebrate after beating Weatherfor­d for the Class 4A boys basketball state championsh­ip Saturday at State Fair Arena. SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN ??
Terry McMorris (24) and his Douglass teammates celebrate after beating Weatherfor­d for the Class 4A boys basketball state championsh­ip Saturday at State Fair Arena. SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN

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