BINGHMTON -- This Mekeel Christian Academy basketball team just doesn't quit. Now they have a chance to win a title no Lions team has claimed:
A state championship.
The Lions forced one overtime, and then another before putting together a decisive push in a history-making performance Friday night at Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena.
Mekeel and Briarcliff exchanged 3-point baskets to begin the second overtime before the Section II representatives put together a closing 9-2 run to win its state Class B semifinal game 68-61.
"The heart of this team is unbelievable," Mekeel senior Carter Stewart said. "I've never played on a team with guys that could dig that deep."
Gideon Agbo's layup tied the game late in the fourth quarter, Deonte Holder's two free throws knotted the contest late in the first overtime, and Stewart's short jumper in the lane broke a 59-59 tie with 1:37 left in the second overtime and kick started the deciding spree.
"I knew we'd have to fight for it," Stewart said after scoring 15 points. "I didn't think we'd have to fight that much."
Mekeel (23-3) had only been to the state final four once before and lost to Sidney in a 2007 Class C semifinal. Mekeel will take on the hometown heroes, Binghamton's Seton Catholic (Section IV, 23-3) Saturday night at 9 p.m. in the title game after the Saints went double overtime themselves to get past Buffalo Health Sciences (Section IV, 21-5) 65-61.
LIONS WIN!!! This will be the first time any team from Mekeel plays for a State Championship! Game is set for tomorrow 3/17 at 9:00pm pic.twitter.com/ReT1hPuP1H— Mekeel Athletics (@Mekeel_Lions) March 17, 2018
"We're not satisfied yet," Stewart said. "Not until we get a chance to hold the plaque over our heads."
Briarcliff (Section I 22-5) was less than a minute away from advancing to the title game, holding a 47-42 lead after Miles Jones sank a foul shot, but Mekeel answered on a 3 by Jordan Jackson and a layup in the closing seconds by Agbo.
"I'm so proud of these kids," Mekeel coach Chad Bowman said. "It would have been really easy to say its over. Until there's zeros on the clock, they keep fighting."
Mekeel was down by as many as eight in the third quarter, just like last week when it rallied past Canton 53-47 in the regionals.
""It was another gut check," Bowman said. "They showed tremendous character hitting big shots."
Holder scored seven of his 25 points in the second quarter capped by his tying foul shots, and the senior guard opened the second OT with a 3-pointer. After Spencer McCann answered with a 3 for Briarcliff, Mekeel went on its 9-2 flurry that decided the game.
Stewart broke the tie and ended the 9-2 run with a free throw. Agbo had a layup in the run, and Holder and Jackson both sank two foul shots inside the final 30 seconds.
"Everyone had their moments tonight," Bowman said.
Jackson had 15 points and 13 rebounds, and Stewart also snared 13 rebounds. McCann paced Briarcliff with 17 points and 11 rebunds.
"Both teams clearly didn't want their season to end," Bowman said.
Jones 6-1-14, Gonseth 5-2-14, McCann 7-1-17, Panarese 0-2-2, Ryan 4-4-14. Totals: 22-10-61.
Holder 7-8-25, Jackson 5-4-15, Stewart 6-1-15, Agbo 5-1-11, McCarty 1-0-2. Totals: 24-14-68.
Briarcliff 12 11 17 7 9 5 - 61
Mekeel 15 11 13 8 9 12 - 68
Three-point goals: Jones, Gonseth 2, McCann 2, Ryan 2, Holder 3, Jackson, Stewart 2.