Hours before Saturday's state title game, Pat Strickland and his team were dining at a local Olive Garden when the boys' basketball coach received a message from Portland (Ore.) Jefferson High officials.
The administration suspended half of his team for violating an undisclosed team rule that morning, leaving his one-loss Democrats with just six players entering the championship contest, according to The Oregonian. Greyson Smallwood, the team's 6-foot-11 center and Rivals' No. 125 ranked junior recruit, had already been removed from the team by his parents a week earlier for "off-the-court issues."
So, how did Jefferson -- considered at full strength to be among the nation's top teams -- respond? Only by jumping out to a 22-point halftime lead and hanging on for dear life to defeat Churchill, 69-64, and capture the school's second straight state title and fifth in the past seven seasons.
"We've been talking about dealing with adversity all tournament," Strickland told The Oregonian after his team finished the season 26-1. "These guys stayed together. This one is special."
Indeed, Gonzaga-bound senior guard Silas Melson -- one of four starters who were not suspended -- reportedly gathered his five teammates together and led them out of the locker room arm in arm. Their arms remained locked until they reached the floor, where they unleashed a fury of 3-pointers. The Democrats made 10-of-16 attempts from beyond the arc to snatch a 47-25 halftime lead.
"I don't know if (the suspensions) affected us, but it obviously affected them," Churchill coach Kelly Bokn told The Oregonian. "They hadn't shot like that all year. The basket was like a garbage can for them."
Bokn's charges outscored Jefferson 25-7 in the third quarter to cut the lead to four, but the Democrats held on for the five-point win. "We were gassed," Strickland admitted to The Register-Guard.
Prior to the game, the Jefferson coach reportedly challenged Melson. "This is why you're the best player in the state," Strickland told his star. "For these types of moments right here." Melson responded with a game-high 24 points on 15 shots to go along with seven rebounds and four assists. Mission accomplished.