Friday nights at the boys high school basketball state tournament have been filled with monumental clashes and shocking upsets.
Twenty years ago, the capacity crowd that packed the Charleston Convention Center witnessed an overtime thriller followed by one of the biggest upsets in state tournament history.
"It was electric. The building was rocking and it was a full house," former Independence head coach Chad Perkins said. "I remember waiting in the tunnel to go out and it seemed like we had to stand there forever. We, of course, were interested in the Woodrow (Wilson) game which was an amazing comeback. It was so intense and I remember we had a couple of players with tears in their eyes before we even took the floor."
Woodrow Wilson opened the evening session by erasing a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat Wheeling Park in a wild overtime thriller, but that was just the beginning of the memorable night.
Game two featured Independence battling Class AA defending state champion Tug Valley. The No. 1-ranked Panthers featured a high-powered offense led by prolific scorer Greg Davis.
"We were really good that year," Perkins recalled. "We had one of the best teams in the state and maybe one of the best players in the state in Josh Allen. We were loose and we didn't have a lot of pressure on us. We were also confident, which is a great recipe going into that situation."
Two days prior, Davis had scorched the nets for 34 points and a state tournament-record eight 3-pointers in an 89-64 thrashing of Wyoming East.
The Patriots, on the other hand, had survived a battle to the wire with Braxton County for a 52-49 win, aided by clutch foul shooting from John McCool and a late scoring spurt from Ronnie Olson.
The semifinal matchup, to many, appeared to be a massive mismatch.
However, a quote by Perkins after the Patriots' quarterfinal win spoke volumes two days later. After admitting his team struggled to get into an offensive flow against Braxton, Perkins said, "We've said all along, you win with defense and I thought we played pretty good defense tonight."
The words fell on deaf ears because slowing Tug Valley's high-powered attack was nearly impossible, or so it seemed.
"Plan A was to put Josh on Davis," Perkins said. "Josh was a complete player and he was deceiving because he was so long and smart. We started the game that way and it worked. Josh could play off just enough that Davis couldn't go around him, but could still close out on him. It bothered Davis all night."
The second part of the game plan on defense was to stop Timmy Slone's slashing ability by drawing charges. That, too, went as planned.
"We were concerned about playing a box-and-one because they had a lot of good players," Perkins remembered. "They were one of the most talented teams regardless of classification."
With Davis struggling to score and Slone sitting with foul trouble, Indy built an eight-point halftime lead. However, as expected, the Panthers got back into the game in the second half and finally caught the upset-minded Patriots in the waning seconds.
"They made a run on us and (Ray) Brewer hit that 3 with 31 seconds to play to tie the game," Perkins said. "That was kind of a crushing blow because that was the first point they had caught us since early in the game. We just held it for the last shot and gave it to our guy."
The final play started in Allen's hands before a pass to Brad Williams attacking the basket resulted in a foul that sent Williams to the line for two free throws. Williams hit the first for the eventual game-winner, but the drama was not quite over.
"We didn't think about it, but we should have told him to miss it on purpose. Luckily he missed it on his own," Perkins said. "Davis shot a three-quarter-court shot that went off the rim."
Allen finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds, while holding Davis to 11 points on 3-of-20 shooting which included 1-for 12 from deep. Olson, who Perkins called the heart and soul of the team and the believer that convinced the team it could make it to the state championship, added 12. Williams scored eight and had 10 rebounds, but none bigger than that final made foul shot.
McCool and sophomore sensation Jonathan Obugene added nine points apiece to round out the scoring.
"They played fearlessly and it is a great memory with a great group of guys," Perkins said. "Definitely a once in a lifetime experience. I know I am a little biased, but it was one of the best nights ever at the state tournament."
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