By BEN JOHNSON
Press Sports Editor
MOORE – At one point during the fourth quarter of Friday night's Class 3A state semifinals, Sequoyah's Ramsey Butler and Millwood's Deford Robinson had to separated following a heated exchange. The two were sent to their respective benches to allow cooler heads to prevail – like two fighters in a heavyweight prize fight.
And that's exactly what the game at Moore High School's Douglas H. Frederick Sports Complex felt like – a bigtime slugfest between two top five teams. But it was Robinson's second-ranked Falcons that prevailed with a 55-48 victory to advance to the 3A title game.
“Their aggressiveness hurt us a little bit,” said Sequoyah coach Larry Grigg, whose team failed to make it past the semifinal round for the second straight season. “And that’s what they did to Verdigris on (Thursday), they just shut Verdigris down. And I was worried about that because we’re not real physical, I mean athletically.”
Millwood's Michael Ervin led the Falcons (22-6) with 11 points as MHS held off a resilient Sequoyah club in the fourth quarter.
Sequoyah, who ends the season 23-7, trailed by seven points early in the final frame, but the No. 4 Indians charged back behind senior Jarrett Travis. The 6-foot-3 forward, who finished with a team-high 11 points, took his game beyond the perimeter with three 3-pointers in the fourth – the first being a shot off the glass to get his hot streak going.
“They (Millwood) gave me the chance to do it, so I did what I had to do,” Travis said talking about Millwood allowing him looks from the outside. “It just wasn’t enough.”
After Travis trimmed the deficit to 49-48 with a 1:50 left, Millwood’s Brandon Swindall knocked down two free throws to bump the Falcon’s edge back to three (51-48).
The Indians attempted to tie the game on Cody Fourkiller’s 3-point shot with 26 seconds remaining. But the senior’s good look from the left wing went astray as Millwood pulled down the rebound and made four more free throws to ice the game.
“It was 49-48, then we had a chance to tie at 51-48,” said Grigg, whose team had won six straight postseason games since losing to Keys (48-47) in the regional-tournament opener. “And they (Millwood) made free throws down the stretch. They have a really good club.”
The difference in the game was Millwood’s 32-17 rebounding advantage. Behind Swindall’s eight boards, the Falcons (22-6) were able to clean the offensive glass and score numerous times on second-chance putbacks.
“I’m sure the difference in the game was offensive rebounding,” said Grigg, whose team was playing in its ninth straight state tournament. “And that’s what we were afraid of just because they are so athletic. We got beat by seven and probably a lot of those were on those putbacks that hurt us.”
Another key in Millwood’s triumph was the Falcons’ relentless pressure on defense. The Indians had very few open looks and had to scratch out every point they could get.
“They played the best D all year of anyone we faced,” said Travis, who was the lone Indian player with shooting success going 4-of-8 from the field and 3-of-7 beyond the arc. “They just play good D.”
As a team, Sequoyah, who dropped to 1-2 all time at Moore High School during state-tournament games, shot 15-of-42 from the field for 35.7 percent. The Indians also were 5-of-18 (27.8 percent) from behind the 3-point line and 12-of-18 (66.7 percent) from the free-throw line.
The Falcons, winners of seven straight, shot 46.8 percent (22-of-47) from the field and 18.1 percent (2-of-11) from beyond the arc. Millwood’s Darius Gates, who scored six points, tallied both treys for the Falcons.
The game was a back-and-forth affair through the opening quarter and the early portions of the second. Through 10 minutes of action, the two teams combined for nine lead changes and three ties.
It was the Falcons, though, that went on a 7-0 run to break a 12-12 tie in the early stages of the second quarter. Millwood would never trail from that point on.
Grigg, who completed his ninth season as Indians’ coach, said not having shooting guard Terran Pettit hurt against Millwood’s strong defensive pressure.
“You have to remember that we played without one of the bullets in our gun,” Grigg said talking about his junior guard. “That makes a big difference.
“We’ve got a kid sitting over there that might of got 15 or 16 points tonight, and he wasn’t on the floor. And that hurts because he can put the ball on the floor and go to the basket. I’m not making excuses, but when you lose a kid like that, it makes a big difference.”
Overall, Grigg was pleased with his team’s play this season – which included a first-place finish in the Tri-State Classic, a third-place showing in the Inola Tournament and a fourth-place finish in the Tournament of Champions. And yet another trip to the state tournament.
“If somebody tells you that every year you’re going to go to the semis and have a chance to get to the finals, I’ll take it every year,” Grigg said.
After summing up the Indians’ season, Grigg made his prediction for the 3A title game, which pitted Millwood against Hugo, who beat Cascia Hall in the other semifinal game.
“We got beat by probably the team that’s going to win the state tournament,” he said. “I would pick Millwood to win because of their defensive pressure.”
Millwood 55, Sequoyah 48 (boys)
Sequoyah 10 17 7 14 – 48
Millwood 12 18 9 16 – 55
Sequoyah (23-7): Jarrett Travis 11, Ramsey Butler 8, Ramsey Nofire 7, Travis Sanders 7, Cody Fourkiller 6, Kialo Vann 5, Riley Sevenstar 4.
Millwood (22-6): Michael Ervin 11, Dre Triplett 9, Chavis Sledge 9, Brandon Swindall 8, Gates 6, Turner 4, Robinson 4, Sledge Jr. 4.