The Golden Tigers, which had played so well over the first three quarters, trailed by one, 52-51, and had turned the ball over with 30 seconds left.
Talihina got another chance when the Mustangs missed a free throw and made the most of it. The Golden Tigers’ Kobe Billy was fouled and sent to the free throw line for a one-and-one. He missed the shot. But Talihina’s Kariim Byrd knifed across the lane, leaped high to haul in the rebound and banked in a short jumper for the go-ahead basket and a 53-52 lead.
Rock Creek had another chance, but could not answer this time, sending a large Talihina crowd into an even bigger frenzy and giving the Golden Tigers the regional championship and putting them one win away from another trip to the state tournament.
Talihina will now play for an area championship Friday at 8 p.m. in Wilburton against Wright City, ranked second in the state.
The Golden Tigers trailed most of the first half before Kobe Billy banked in a 3 at the buzzer for a 28-26 lead.
Talihina used an 11-0 run in the third quarter, thanks to a pair of 3’s by Colton Wall, one by Billy and a basket by Byrd to build a 43-30 lead.
Rock Creek cut the deficit to 43-33 at the end of the third quarter. Billy put the advantage back to 12 with a layup. The Mustangs responded, going on a 10-0 burst in 2:24 to pull within two points.
The Mustangs finally grabbed the lead on a layup by Darian James with 53 seconds left. Talihina turned the ball over with 30 seconds remaining and had to foul several times to put Rock Creek into the bonus.
The Mustangs missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Talihina the ball and another chance. The Golden Tigers called time with 12.7 left to set up a play. Billy took the inbound pass, drove the right side of the lane and was fouled with 5.4 seconds left.
He missed and the ball bounced high. Byrd came from across the lane to grab the rebound, soared high above the defenders and hit the short jumper for the lead and the win.
Billy led sixth-ranked Talihina (20-5) with 16 points while Wall had 14 and Byrd 12. No. 12 Rock Creek (21-6) got 18 points from James.
2A regional championship
Talihina 53, Rock Creek 52
Rock Creek 14 12 6 20—52
Talihina 13 15 15 10—53
Rock Creek—James 18, McGowan 15, Rogers 7, Vandenburg 4, Dry 2, Roper 2, Allen 2, Green 2
Talihina—Kobe Billy 16, Colton Wall 14, Kariim Byrd 12, Austin Fenton 5, Jacob Sockey 4, Dylan Blair 2
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