By Heath Ritchie - Coaches Aid | March 13th, 2004
OCS beats Riverside in thriller for
second title in three years
STATE FAIR ARENA - When you're from a Christian school, you know exactly what to do when faced with a seven-point deficit late in the third quarter.
Just have a little faith.
That was the case in Saturday's Class 3A boys state championship game as second ranked Oklahoma Christian School erased that deficit late in the fourth quarter and hung on to beat No.7 Riverside 55-50 in front of more than 8,000 inside State Fair Arena.
The championship game victory completes a perfect 29-0 season for the Saints.
"I never lost faith," said OCS head coach Tommy Griffin who has now led two different teams to undefeated seasons, and three different schools to a total of five championships.
OCS had fallen behind 35-28 with three minutes to play in the third quarter, but a valiant fourth quarter defensive charge turned the tide in the Saints favor.
Clutch free throw shooting down the stretch did the rest.
The championship is Oklahoma Christian's fourth overall, the last coming in 2002 against Yale.
The Saints also took home back-to-back gold balls in 1992 and 1993..
3A FINALS | Oklahoma Christian 55, Riverside 50
The two teams traded leads five times throughout the first twenty minutes of play before Riverside took control with a 7-0 run midway through the third quarter.
A pair of buckets by Chris Rainbow and a three-pointer by Mike Garreau staked the Braves to a 35-28 margin with three minutes remaining in the quarter before Tommy Griffin called a timeout.
Whatever the OCS coach said in the huddle worked. The Saints clamped down defensively and wrestled the lead back in the span of eight minutes on the game clock.
"I just told the guys we needed to turn the defensive intensity up," said coach Griffin. "And they turned it up."
Trailing 46-44 with five minutes to play, the Saint defense forced four Riverside turnovers and turned those into five points for a 49-46 lead with 1:07 remaining.
Seth Marcus had two steals, Joel Evans had another and Taylor Griffin forced a five-second violation during what amounted to a 9-1 Saint run.
Senior guard Josh Adel protected the OCS lead, hitting on 3-of-4 clutch free throws in the final minute before the Braves eventually ran out of clock.
"We were ready and focused," said Adel who also hit a big three-pointer early in the fourth quarter. "We never panicked. We'd focused to long and too hard for that."
The other defensive factor that played into the victory was OCS' ability to quiet the three-point shooting prowess of Riverside, a weapon the Braves used to bury its first two state tournament opponents.
Riverside connected on 10 three-pointers in its first round victory over No.1 Sequoyah-Tahlequah and dialed up 13 more triples in a semifinal win over No.4 Meeker.
Today, the Braves hit on just 4-of-13 shots from beyond the arc.
"We played much too cautious today," said Riverside coach Don Sims. "We played our game the first three quarters, but we passed up too many good looks at the end and that cost us.
"I wish we'd have shot the [three-pointer] more in the fourth quarter."
Tommy Griffin was impressed with the Braves coming into today's title tilt, but felt his seniors would answer the challenge.
"Riverside is the quickest team I've seen this year, in any class," Griffin admitted. "We couldn't really prepare for them since we were playing teams every day of the tournament, but our seniors kept the team focused and got it done for us.
"We bent a little, but we didn't break."
The coach's son, Taylor Griffin, had a monster game for the Saints. The 6-foot-5 junior forward scored 17 points and was a dominating presence on the boards, grabbing 15 rebounds and limiting Riverside's ability to get second looks.
Griffin has averaged a double-double throughout the season and didn't let up this weekend. His three-day tournament totals of 63 points and 36 rebounds earned him Coaches Aid Tournament MVP honors.
Senior guard Joel Evans led OCS with 20 points. Evans also played in the Saints' 2002 championship game win over Yale.
"This was a perfect ending," said Evans of his career. "Winning the gold ball along with going undefeated, it doesn't get any better."
Tommy Griffin insists the goal of going undefeated was established from the very beginning, and that he knew his club had the formula to make a run at a perfect season.
"That was the goal, and it all starts with great kids," Griffin said. "Great kids is always the common factor when it comes to success and we have them here."
Coach Griffin now has five championships as a coach, two coming via undefeated seasons. His 1996 John Marshall team never lost en-rout to the gold ball.
Griffin won another title at John Marshall (2002) and two more at the original Classen High School in 1975 and 1980.
Riverside's Mike Garreau led all scorers with 21 points. The senior point guard hit three of the team's four triples. Keenan Mahseet added 10 points.
The Braves (22-8) were making the program's first-ever state title game appearance and did it in its first-ever trip to the state tournament.
3A Boys Championship Okla-Christian - 15 8 12 20 - 55 Riverside - 15 9 17 9 - 50
Oklahoma Christian (29-0) - Joel Evans 20, Taylor Griffin 17, Tyler Phillips 6, Josh Adel 6, Blake Griffin 4, Seth Marcus 2.
Riverside (22-8) - Mike Garreau 21, Keenan Mahseet 10, Chris Rainbow 8, Brandon Bearstops 5, Tylee Rednose 4, Damon Nimsey 2.