This week at the state tournament, it's win or go home. No second chances, no double-elimination.
But that's nothing new to Crooked Oak. The Ruf-Nex lost to Stroud in the first game of the playoffs back on Feb. 16, then won six straight games with their season on the line to get to state for the first time since 2004.
The Ruf-Nex were 9-15 after the 91-73 loss to Stroud in the district playoff opener. Two weeks later, they avenged that 18-point loss with a 57-44 victory over Stroud to earn their state berth.
“They've had four coaches in the last four years, so there's been no consistency,” coach Jay Means said. “I came in with a lot of tough love and discipline they're not used to. But they realized that they could be successful once they played within the system.”
Sophomore Sanardo Ballard saved the season with a game-tying buzzer-beater to force overtime against Lindsay, a game Crooked Oak ultimately won by 10.
Ballard is one of three averaging at least 13 points per game. Steven Daniels averages 16.4, with Ballard at 15.6 and Kharon Norwood at 13.6.
MILLWOOD MAKING 30TH APPEARANCE
It's rare for a Varryl Franklin-coached Millwood team to come to the state tournament with an individual player dominating the stat sheet, and this season — the Falcons' 30th at state — is no different.
Three starters, Chris Crook, Mike Mayes and Ashford Golden average 10-11 points per game for Millwood.
The Falcons have 14 state titles in 20 championship game appearances.
MORE BALANCE FOR SPERRY
Last year, Sperry reached the state tournament riding on the shoulders of then-senior C.J. Cole, who averaged 22 points and 17 rebounds.
But this year's Pirates have turned to a more balanced approach.
Leading the way is 6-foot-6 junior Casey Cole, C.J.'s brother, who averages 15.8 points and 10.6 rebounds. Point guard Blake Teel adds 15.2 points and 7.1 assists, while Dylan Parker and Peyton Pratt add 15.3 and 13.8 points per game.