Kadeem Strickland (3) gets a hug after the Jefferson Democrats beat the Churchill Lancers, 69-64, to win the OSAA 5A boys basketball state championship in Eugene Saturday March 15, 2014. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Randy L. Rasmussen)
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Silas Melson scored 24 points and Kadeem Strickland added 18 as Jefferson successfully defended its OSAA Class 5A boys basketball title, defeating Churchill 69-64 Saturday night.
The Democrats (26-1) built a 24-point lead in the first half, then watched it nearly slip away as Churchill pulled within 59-57 in the fourth quarter.
The Lancers (25-3) could never claim the lead, though, and Malik Morgan missed a potential game-tying three-pointer with 0.6 seconds left in the game. Morgan led Churchill with 21 points and 11 assists.
Jefferson won its fifth championship in seven years, and did so with more than half of its roster unavailable due to suspension. Earlier in the day, school administrators suspended six players for the final for unspecified detrimental conduct, joining previously suspended starting center Greyson Smallwood.
The six Democrats who did play came onto the court before the game with their arms linked together, something Melson said was his idea.
"That's just the leadership I want to bring to my team," said the Gonzaga-bound senior. "I want to bring all of my teammates together to play as one, and that's why we did that."
Jefferson made nine of its first 11 three-pointers in the first half and built a 45-21 lead in the second quarter.
"They've gotten hot before," said Jefferson coach Pat Strickland. "Kadeem was a catalyst, and it rubbed off on Silas and a couple other guys."
Churchill of Eugene, playing in front of a frenzied hometown crowd, wouldn't go away, outscoring the Democrats 25-7 in the third quarter to pull within 54-50 heading into the final period.
Each time the Lancers pulled within striking distance, Jefferson responded with a big play, mostly by Melson.
"I told Silas 'this is why you're the best player in the state, for these moments right here,'" said Pat Strickland.
Melson made nine of 15 field goal attempts, and added seven rebounds and four assists. Kadeem Strickland made four of Jefferson's 11 three-pointers.
"Jefferson played about as well as a team can play in the first half," said Churchill coach Kelly Bokn. "We just built such a hole. I was proud of our kids, they responded in the second half and played with all their heart."
The matchup was a repeat of last year's final, which Jefferson won 59-53. Jefferson also beat Churchill 67-55 earlier this season.
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