DODGE CITY, Kan. - Montezuma-South Gray, ranked No. 2 in Class 1A, had captured 39 straight victories coming into Saturday’s Southern Plains Iroquois midseason tournament championship game Saturday night.
That included a victory against Coldwater-South Central in December. In the title, the Rebels scored 15 of the game’s first 17 points versus South Central’s zone.
However, the T-Wolves went to a man-to-man, battled back and captured a thrilling 61-60 final at United Wireless Arena. Junior Xavier Frazier hit the game-winner with 7.5 seconds left on a turnaround shot inside.
“It was my fault to start,” second-year South Central coach Roe Macias, a former SG assistant, said. “I tried to put us in a 3-2 zone. That’s not our norm, but when we got back to our full court man like we run and things we do, it all came back together. That’s a tough team. They are well-coached, they are well-disciplined. It’s tough to beat a South Gray, so it just makes it that much more impressive for us.”
South Central trailed 17-8 after the first quarter, mainly behind the treys from senior Clifton Miller, one of the state’s top players. Miller tallied 16 points, just two in the second half. South Central moved to 13-2, and South Gray dropped to 13-1.
“We stayed with them, and just executed really well,” Frazier said. “I think we did really good all around as a team, a little rough on rebounding, but other than that, I think we played great, just good ball movement.”
Macias said it marked the first time SC had captured a SPIAA midseason tournament title. In the man-to-man look, junior Owen Alexander stuck to Miller.
“They came back out in that man and they just started really pressuring us hard, and it was a physical game, and it was more to their advantage than it was to ours,” SG coach Mark Applegate said. “But they played well, South Central played well. They had a good game plan, and they executed it well.”
Alexander is 6-foot-4 and has three inches on Miller. Macias called the defensive look “more than a man-and-one.” At times, SG ran screens to get Alexander off Miller, but SC switched well, including a steal from Frazier.
“Kind of shut him down,” Macias said. “Little bit of length on him, helps when he shoots that shot, helps get a hand up.”
South Central halted a nine-game losing streak versus South Central that dated back to Jan. 27, 2012. Since 2006, SC is 2-14 versus the tradition-laden Rebels, the defending Class 1A, Division I state champions.
“I tell the boys all the time, ‘If we do our stuff, and run our things the way that we are supposed to, we can win basketball games, we can compete with anybody,’” Macias said.
SG went 26-0 last year, including a bye, and had won every game this season by double figures. Its closest game was an 80-70 home victory versus South Central on Dec. 18, a game where Miller tallied 21 points, and South Central went 6 of 24 from long range.
“Going into the man defense, pressure them a little more,” Frazier said. “That full court man, pushing them up the court, it takes them a lot longer to get the ball up the court, and I think we kind of pressured them, and they didn’t expect it, and that’s what got us the win.”
The T-Wolves took a 33-32 lead at halftime. SC led 44-42 entering the fourth quarter and hit four treys in the final eight minutes.
South Gray took a 60-59 lead late when sophomore Ethan Salmans, for his only basket of the contest, missed a shot from the right side, ran in, grabbed his own offensive rebound and then scored on the left.
However, SC gained the lead with 7.5 seconds remaining on a game-winning basket from Frazier. At 6-foot-4, Frazier had two inches down low against South Gray senior Austin Jantz. Frazier gathered the ball on the left block, turned and shot.
“It was pretty rough,” Frazier said. “I wasn’t too sure if I was going to make it, but I got a lucky fall, and won us the game.”
After an inbounds, SG tried to inbound the ball to Jantz, but South Central knocked the ball loose with a second to go, effectively sealing the game.
“That was probably the best part about it,” Frazier said. “Beating an undefeated team. Our only league loss was to South Gray earlier in the season, and so it was pretty great to get them here in the championship.”
South Central’s inside-out offense yielded 8 of 16 from 3-point range and had 20 points from Alexander.
“They had some shots that they put down that they had to put down,” Applegate said. “We had to guard certain people that we knew were going to make shots, and they had some kids step up and make shots that we didn’t plan on. That’s the breaks of the game.”
Frazier tallied 16, and junior Chayde Snyder had 14 points – well above his season average. Jantz paced SG with 21 points, and sophomore Aaron Skidmore tallied 16.
“You give us a small section, we are probably going to knock down,” Macias said. “And that’s what happened. Xavier was on his game tonight. Chayde was on his game tonight, and it helped the outside guys get open shots, so that’s usually how it works, inside-out.”