MIDWEST CITY — With its back against the wall in the first round of the Class 3A boys state tournament, Centennial’s postseason experience showed.
Trailing by six with four minutes remaining, the Bison made clutch plays down the stretch to pull out a 56-53 win over Atoka.
“I’m proud of our guys being able to come back,” said Centennial coach Garrette Mantle. “This group of seniors, they’re winners. This is their fourth year at the state tournament, they’ve won a lot of games here, and it showed.”
Leading the way was senior Austin Garner, who finished with 20 points and flushed a game-clinching dunk with 20 seconds to play.
“The experience we have most definitely helped us out,” Garner said. “Most teams would panic, but that past experience we have helped us stay calm under pressure.”
After struggling to hit shots early, the 6-foot-7 Garner came through with 14 of his points in the second half.
“My teammates and my coaches, they’ve got a lot of confidence in me, so I just kept pulling and eventually started getting some shots to fall,” Garner said.
Malcolm Mitchell Jr. and Corneilus McKiver, the Bison’s other two seniors, played a major role is forcing several Atoka turnovers after Centennial switched to a full-court press in the fourth quarter. The defensive pressure helped Centennial close the game on a 13-4 run. Mitchell had 12 points and McKiver added 11.
Centennial (25-2) had no answer for Atoka’s Bishop Coulter much of the night. The 6-foot-6 sophomore was a force down low, scoring 17 points to lead the Wampus Cats.
Atoka (21-7) closed the second quarter on a 14-2 run to take a 28-20 lead into the half, and didn’t trail in the second half until just under two minutes remaining in the game.
“Atoka just played really great, give them a lot of credit,” Mantle said. “They’re athletic and well coached. They threw some daggers in us throughout the game, but I’m proud of how our guys responded.”