CHECOTAH — Quinton Johnston drove to the rim and not a single Verdigris player followed him. The Cardinals had started waving the white flag.
Class 3A No. 5 Sequoyah wore down the fourth-ranked Cardinals and celebrated its second straight 3A area championship with a 64-55 victory at an overflowing Checotah Event Center on Friday night.
"This is the biggest thing of the year," Sequoyah forward Elijah Tucker said. "When the preseason starts in the summertime, from the first camp to the first practice, this is our goal to get back to the state tournament."
In front of an estimated 1,850 fans in a standing-room only crowd, the Indians (23-3) picked up their state tournament berth by stifling Verdigris (23-4) in the fourth quarter.
After the game was tied at 51 with 5:50 left, Sequoyah scored 13 of the final 17 points of the contest. The Indians put the game away when B.J. Leach converted on an old-fashioned three-point play with 4:02 left.
Sequoyah coasted the rest of the way, including the final 20 seconds as the Indians celebrated by slapping the floor and exchanging high-fives, while Verdigris players stood at the midcourt stripe waiting for the final buzzer to mercifully sound.
"We won the fourth quarter big," said Sequoyah coach Jay Herrin, whose club outscored Verdigris, 17-9, in the final stanza. "We've been a second-half team all year, so I was really proud of our kids for that."
Sequoyah senior Caisen Green led all scorers with 26 points on a 12-of-17 effort from the field. Leach chipped in with 16 points — 10 of which came after halftime.
"We made some plays up this week to help get our guards some mismatches inside and a five-out motion thing so we could get some one-on-one opportunities," Green said.
The game featured 16 ties and 21 lead changes.
Caleb Jones paced Verdigris with 18 points. Tyler Monroe, despite late foul trouble, notched 12 points for the Cardinals, who will take on Antlers in the area consolation game on Saturday night at 8.
Unlike last year's area championship game against No. 1 Oklahoma Centennial, Sequoyah didn't have to overcome an 18-point deficit.
"It was very nice, very nice," said Tucker, whose team trailed Centennial by 15 points at halftime last season. "Nice to go in at halftime tied at 31-31. It was a good feeling."
Herrin felt like his club should of had the upper hand at the break.
"We felt pretty good about the first half, but I thought we left a few points out there," Herrin said. "We gave up a couple of offensive rebounds, and that led to a 3 at the end. We felt like we should of had a five-point lead at the half."
The Indians were consistent from the field and finished with a 25-of-49 shooting performance. Verdigris was 18-of-40 from the floor in the first three quarters, but a three-of-11 showing in the fourth quarter — in addition to eight turnovers — doomed the Cardinals in the final period.