BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – It has been 30 years in the making, but well worth the wait. For the first time since 1988, right on line with its 30th anniversary, the Sylacauga High School Varsity Boys are state champions after defeating the Eufaula Tigers 79-78 in overtime in the Class 5A State Finals at the BJCC in Birmingham on Saturday.
MVP of the 5A State Finals Malik Crawford held his face in his hands as tears flowed from his eyes as Eufaula tossed up a half-court heave that fell aimlessly to the floor when the final buzzer sounded in overtime. Crawford, who has played varsity since his freshman season, led the Aggies in points in both the semifinals and finals. Against Talladega Wednesday night, Crawford dominated the game, posting 27 points and seven rebound leading his team to its first win over Talladega, previously 0-3, on the year. In the finals versus Eufaula, the senior forward put up 20 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 50% from the floor.
The title game, however, was not all Crawford. Four Aggies scored in double figures, including Keaton Wilson (14), Malik Powell(13), and Desmon Jones (16).
The first half was as evenly played as the rest of the game with Sylacauga taking a 34-31 lead into intermission. Things heated up in the second half with both teams taking advantage of huge swings of momentum. The game was either tied or saw a lead changed a combined 19 times throughout the contest.
With Sylacauga up 40-39 in the third, Eufaula hit back-to-back three-point shots and stormed off to a 12-0 run, putting the Tigers up 51-40. The Sylacauga students section was quiet enough to hear a pin drop, but the Aggies were not done.
With all the momentum favoring the Tigers, Sylacauga scored six quick points to end the third and trail 51-46 going into the final quarter of regulation.
Sylacauga did not cool down to start the fourth, stretching its 6-0 run to 17-0 and eventually going on a 22-4 run to lead Eufaula 62-55. “A big moment was when we got down 11 and I told the guys we worked too hard to lay down and stop,” said SHS Head Coach William Copeland. “We have ran too many sprints and worked too hard since August to stop.” Copeland credited the fight in his team to off-season conditioning and pure toughness after that run that got his team back in the game.
Eufaula quickly put up a 7-0 run of its own to knot the title game up at 62 with a layup by Eufaula’s second leading scorer with 20 points, Terrell Jones. A majority of Eufaula’s fourth quarter run can be credited to turnovers. Sylacauga turned the ball over four times from the 2:12 mark in the fourth to 1:34 mark, putting the team on its heals.
Jones and teammate Laquaveous Nelson, who scored 21 for the Tigers, were nearly impossible for Sylacauga to defend. The duo combined for 41 points and carried Eufaula through the title game.
With Sylacauga up 66-64 with 5 seconds left the Tigers pulled down one of their 23 offensive rebounds leading to the game-tying shot by Eufaula’s Marquise Jones. Sylacauga Senior Darian Garrett throw up a 3/4 court that nearly went in, which led the game to overtime.
Sylacauga’s Desmon Jones filled the stat sheet in OT, scoring six of his 16 points, four points coming from the floor and two coming from the charity stripe.
Leading 79-78 four seconds remaining, Garrett missed two free throws for the Aggies leaving Eufaula with one last shot. View the final play below.
Nelson missed the buzzer beater for the win, giving Sylacauga its first boys basketball title in 30 years. “I’m proud of our team because we got down and didn’t quit,” Copeland said. “I’m happy for the community, these players and for this program.”
For star Malik Crawford, his high school basketball career is over, this game means everything. “At the beginning of the year, our coaches said they were going to put us in a position to win a state championship. It was always in the back of our minds that we would win it,” Crawford said with tears in his eyes. “Everything we did throughout the season put us in this position today, and it means a lot to everybody.”
The Aggies won the game on the scoreboard and the stat sheet. The Aggies finished the day shooting 45.8% (27-59) from the floor compared to Eufaula,s 35.3% (30-85). The Aggies shot better than Eufaula beyond the arc, shooting 25% from three compared to Eufaula’s 20.8% from deep. Sylacauga also out-rebounded the Tigers 54-47. One stat, that could have potentially cost the Aggies the game, was free throw percentage. Sylacauga missed 19 free throws (22-41) compared to Eufaula’s 13-20 from the stripe.