MIAMI - Clutch free throw shooting in the final three minutes Saturday night carries the Commerce Tigers to a 55-50 victory over Braggs in the Boys Norse bracket championship of the 73rd annual Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College High School Invitational Basketball Tournament.
Playing in the Glen Wolfe Student Activity Center on the NEO campus, the title became the first for the Tigers since 1996 and their seventh overall.
Commerce head coach Terry Tyree Jr. joins his father, Terry Tyree Sr. as the only father-son combination to capture a championship in tournament history. Tyree Sr. won the 1995 crown with Commerce girls.
"I started getting a little emotional towards the end," Tyree Jr. said. "I was with him and Steve Blazer when they won the '95 title with the Commerce girls.
"Dad was able to win a championship and now I have one," Tyree Jr. said. "But, I couldn't have done it without my kids and administrative support. I have to thank the good Lord because he was with us all the way."
While winning three straight games, the Tigers resume the regular season with an 8-4 record.
"I am so proud of our kids," Tyree Jr. said. "This was a total team effort."
Clinging to a 47-46 lead with a little over three minutes showing on the clock, the Tigers sank eight of 12 free throw attempts down the stretch to seal the victory.
Senior forward Hunter Burkybile hit 6 of 10 free throws while junior guard Carlos Cardenas sank the final two with just 16 seconds showing on the clock.
Trading baskets back and forth in the first quarter, Commerce overcame a 9-4 deficit to grab a 13-10 margin. Senior point guard Lupe Prado forced three turnovers that resulted in breakaway layups for the Tigers in the first eight minutes.
With Commerce maintaining an 18-13 lead at the 6:22 juncture of the second quarter, Braggs went on a 9-0 run to grab a 22-18 lead with 2:49 before halftime.
A 3-pointer by Wildcat guard Parker York along with three free throws by the sophomore ignited the Braggs outburst.
Over the next two minutes the Tigers unleashed their own 9-point run to build a 27-22 lead with just 26 seconds left until intermission.
Four points by Ryan Dunbar and three by Burkybile along with a breakaway layup by Chris Ibarra accounted for the Tigers rally.
"I told our kids at halftime that we’d won half the game (27-23 lead at half), but we want to win two halves of a game," Tyree said. "This tournament is the type environment you want to play in because this is the environment you get when you play in district championships, regional championships and things like that."
Continuing to use pressure defense and great ball movement on offense, the Tigers received three points from sophomore Danny Salinas and two free throws by Burkybile to hold a 32-29 lead midway through the third quarter.
The Wildcats answered with four straight points by Askew to grab their last lead of the game at 33-32 with 2:45 showing on the clock.
Consecutive field goals by Ibarra, Prado and Cruz Munson enabled the Tigers to carry a 38-33 cushion into the fourth quarter.
"We are going to try to beat you as much ferocious defense as we can play," Tyree said. "I told them the one thing we had to do is attack the glass because I had watched Braggs yesterday (Friday) and they were a glass team.
"I also told my guys that if they would attack the glass and read them, limit their second chance opportunities, we would win the game."
Burkybile scored four points along with baskets by Prado, Munson and Dunbar to give Commerce a 47-40 advantage with 3:57 left in the game..
Braggs retaliated with four points from Askew and a layup by York to trim the deficit to a 47-46 score with 3:05 remaining on the clock.
"We had some kids step up," Tyree said. "We are so deep that I feel like we can go 10 deep.
"We had one kid foul out and a couple others with four, but we can just come at you in so many ways," Tyree said. "We got pretty good guard play and had a couple bigs that helped us out a little bit."
With 17 points, Burkybile led the Tigers in scoring while Prado added 15, Dunbar 8, Salinas 6, Munson 6 and Zaine Cheater 2.
"I just can’t say enough about my seniors," Tyree said. "It’s just their resiliency, what they’ve been through in the past.
"They really haven’t got a lot of court time. Hunter (Burkybile) is probably the only one who has gotten a lot of court time in the past.
"Briar hasn’t played since he was in the second grade while Lupe works his tail end off.
"Zaine hasn’t played since he was in the sixth grade, but he comes to work every day," Tyree said. "There isn’t a kid that plays with more heart and effort than that kid."
York paced the Wildcats with 19 points while Askew added 13.
The Tigers travel to Fairland on Tuesday, Jan. 23, then host Afton on Friday, Jan. 26.