MURFREESBORO—The Oak Ridge boys’ basketball team will play for a state championship for the first time in 51 years after beating the Arlington Tigers 57-56 in a semifinal game in Murfreesboro on Friday. It was a victory decided by a tie-breaking free throw with only a few seconds remaining.
The Wildcats (32-7) will now battle the Blackman Blaze (27-6) in the Class AAA state tournament finals in Murfreesboro on Saturday afternoon.
Senior Isaac Merian overcame double and triple teams on Friday to lead all scorers with 21 points. He often faked a shot, let a defender go by, and then fired.
“I just kept playing my game, and my shots kept falling,” said Merian, a 6-foot-6 power forward who also had three blocks. “It’s probably one of the most memorable games. I’ll tell this one to my kids.”
Sophomore Geevantay Gee, a point guard who turned 16 on Thursday, added 15.
“He had some huge baskets in the second half,” Oak Ridge Coach Aaron Green said.
Gee also had five assists and no turnovers. He made his first appearance in a state tournament this week.
“Geevantay Gee made his presence known today on a big stage,” Green said. “Tee Higgins did Wednesday.”
Higgins, a freshman reserve guard, had 10 points against Jefferson County on Wednesday, including two three-point shots, and led all scorers at the end of the first half of that quarterfinal game.
Senior forward Kevin Steen gave Oak Ridge the winning score on Friday, hitting one free throw to break a 56-56 tie with 6.6 seconds remaining. Steen, who led the Wildcats in scoring during the quarterfinal game against Jefferson County on Wednesday, had 11 points on Friday.
He said the goal was to stay calm under pressure, play together as a team, and avoid turnovers.
“Our goal is to win the state championship,” said Steen, a University of Tennessee baseball signee.
Oak Ridge has gone to the state championship twice since the school was founded in the mid-1940s, and they won both times, once in 1961 and the other in 1963.
Saturday’s championship game starts at 2 p.m. CDT (3 p.m. EDT) at the Murphy Center at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. Blackman advanced to the finals with a 47-41 win over Brentwood in the other semifinal match on Friday.
Arlington (29-5), a Shelby County team, was led in scoring against Oak Ridge on Friday by Cody Hailstock with 20 points and K.J. Bates with 16. The Wildcats held University of Massachusetts signee C.J. Anderson, a Mr. Basketball finalist, to seven points and two assists.
“We won that game on the defensive end,” Green said.
The Wildcats also limited the Tigers to 38 percent shooting from the field and roughly matched them in rebounds. Seniors Jaylin Henderson and Seth Davis each had seven rebounds for Oak Ridge, and Merian had six. Oak Ridge shot 48 percent from the field.
Oak Ridge led most of the first half or kept it tied, and the Wildcats were up 32-25 at halftime.
But the Tigers, who beat nationally ranked White Station in a sectional game last week, went on a 18-6 scoring run in the first six minutes of the third quarter on Friday.
But Oak Ridge was able to fight back. It’s a position they’ve been in before.
“We hung in there,” Green said.
The Blackman Blaze are coached by Barry Wortman, who resigned from the coaching position at Oak Ridge in March 2010 after less than one year to take the Murfreesboro job. Green replaced Wortman in Oak Ridge.
On Friday, Green said the Blaze are athletic, disciplined, and well-coached, although they like to play slower than Oak Ridge. He urged as many Wildcats as possible to come to the Saturday afternoon game.
“We’ve got one more,” Green said. “It’ll be a battle.”
Note: This story was last updated at 10:10 a.m. March 15.
See stats and the bracket from the 2014 BlueCross Basketball Championship—Division I Class AAA Boys’ Tournament here.
See the stats from Friday’s Oak Ridge-Arlington game here.