SO CLOSE!

Tom Batters
Richwoods senior T.J. Cole (left) can't hold back the tears as he wears his state runner-up medal Saturday.

The ball was in the right hands (twice) but the shots just did not fall.

Richwoods, which trailed by nine points at halftime, rallied, but fell short Saturday in the Class 3A state championship game at Carver Arena.

The 58-55 loss to Hillcrest came right down to the final seconds and Richwoods senior Mason Alwan, who made several big plays down the stretch, missed a three-point shot at the buzzer, which would have tied the game.

“We had a good shot at the end, and it just didn’t fall,” said Richwoods coach Mike Ellis. “That’s all you can ask for. We were down but we battled back, and didn’t quit.”

With :08 left and the Knights trailing, 56-55, senior all-state guard Tylon Deal missed a 12-foot jump shot and Richwoods was forced to foul.

Nick Oden made both free throws and Richwoods rushed the ball back up the court.

Alwan got a good look, but his three-point shot hit the rim and bounced off.

Not done yet...The Knights trailed, 31-22, at halftime (Hillcrest ended the first half on a 12-2 run), but they were not ready to roll over.

Deal grabbed an offensive rebound to start the third quarter and he put in a shot off the glass. Senior guard Aaron Davis made two free throws on the Knights’ next possession to make it a 31-26 game.

Hillcrest senior Eric Gaines drove to the basket and made a layup to make it 33-26.

Richwoods senior Tony Frazier cut to the basket and received a bounce pass from Davis for a layup to make it 33-28.

Julius Brown drove to the basket and converted a layup to make it 35-28, but Davis ran the fast break to the other end and made a layup of his own. Deal then made two free throws to cut Hillcrest’s lead to 37-32.

Oden hit a four-foot shot to make it 39-32 Hillcrest.

Richwoods senior T.J. Cole got open along the baseline and made a shot off the glass.  Alwan got a steal and drove the length of the floor for a layup. He was fouled on the play. He made the free throw to make it a 39-37 game.

Alwan’s three-pointer with :25 left in the third quarter gave the Knights a 40-39 lead. Frazier then got a steal and a layup to give Richwoods a 42-39 lead at the end of the third quarter.

Hillcrest got two quick baskets to start the fourth quarter, but Deal hit a three-pointer at the 6:46 mark to pull the Knights to within two points (45-43).

Hillcrest went on a 6-0 run (all by Gaines, who had a game-high 18 points), and Ellis called a timeout with 4:24 left.

Deal hit another three-pointer to cut the Hillcrest lead to 49-48.

Brown hit a jump shot to extend Hillcrest’s lead to 51-48, but Alwan answered with a three-pointer to tie the game, 51-51, with 3:26 left.

With 1:37 left, Hillcrest forward Herbert Offord drove to the basket for a layup, and he was fouled. He made the free throw to give the Hawks a 54-51 lead.

Frazier made another cut along the baseline, received a bounce pass from Davis, and made a layup to make it a 54-53 game in favor of Hillcrest.

After a hard-fought scramble for a loose ball at the Hillcrest end, Alwan emerged with the ball. He was fouled and he made both free throws to give Richwoods a 55-54 lead with :53 left.

With :29 left, Davis fouled Gaines, who made both free throws to give the lead back to Hillcrest (56-55).

With :21 left, Ellis called his final timeout.

After the timeout, the Knights were in position to take one last shot, which they have done effectively throughout the playoffs.

After passing the ball around the perimeter, Deal got the ball with an open look with :08 left. He missed the 12-foot jumper, and Hillcrest grabbed the rebound.

Hillcrest, which got many of its points in the paint, was a quick, physical team that shot the ball well.

Gaines scored six of his 18 points in he fourth quarter.

“We knew Richwoods would be a tough game,” Gaines said. “They are a great team. We got a little scared when they made their comeback. But, in the end, we just played our game and hit our shots.”

The Knights, who were going for the first boys basketball state title in school history, earned their second runner-up trophy in Ellis’s seven-year career.

 “I’m proud of the effort these kids gave today and all year long,” Ellis said. “We just came up a little short. Second place in the state is no reason to hang your head, though.”