Fans who witnessed Saturday's Class A boys state basketball championship left the Colonial Center with one memory that lasts a lifetime.
That's the image of Great Falls senior Xavier Holmes throwing down a vicious two-handed dunk off a half-court pass from fellow senior Shaquille Simpson. That SportsCenter-worthy slam kick-started a 10-0 third-quarter run and propelled the Red Devils to a 79-61 win against the Johnsonville Flashes (21-6).
Great Falls (28-1) won a state-record 10th championship in back-to-back fashion. Coach John Smith earned win No. 893 and an eighth state title with the school. The senior class finished with a 103-8 record. All that came to a head on the Simpson-to-Holmes highlight. Did you see it?
"That was a phenomenal play," Smith said. "I've seen a lot of dunks, but that's the most athletic dunk I've seen. I don't know how (Holmes) can go from missing two dunks to getting a foot-and-a-half above the rim to be able to dunk with two hands. The fans certainly got their money's worth on that one."
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Holmes also got his fill. He finished with 22 points, 20 rebounds and five blocks. Ernest Talford added 22 points, and Simpson finished with 10 points.
"This means so much to my mom, my dad, my community and my coaching staff," Talford said. "This is great for Great Falls."
Johnsonville, making its first state title appearance, hung tough early. The Flashes took an early 7-3 lead on a long-range 3-pointer from Cordea Wilson. Great Falls helped with five first-quarter turnovers, but Holmes kept the offense together with seven points, six rebounds and two blocks.
The Red Devils worked the back cut with Talford to take their first lead, and Simpson beat the buzzer with a floater for a 14-11 advantage after one quarter.
Great Falls continued with six straight field goals to start the second quarter. A below-the-rim alley-oop from Simpson to Talford opened up a 23-13 lead.
Red Devils' fans might have been thinking blowout, but the Flashes closed with an 8-2 run and trailed 36-30 at halftime. Johnsonville's Aaron Mack scored 15 of his team-high 18 points in the first half.
"I told our kids at halftime that we didn't make some baskets inside," Johnsonville coach Harris Avant said. "We missed some easy field goals, and then allowed them to get some easy baskets."
The Red Devils led 41-35 with 5:12 left in the third quarter before the rapid-fire game-breaking sequence. Mack blocked Holmes' dunk attempt, and that turned out to be a mistake.
"(Mack) told me I was playing soft," Holmes said. "I knew I had to go up strong. I knew I had to dunk the basketball after that."
Holmes did just that - twice. Simpson found Holmes for a short-range alley-oop on the next possession for an eight-point lead. Simpson forced a steal on the following possession, took one step inside half court and lobbed the ball to Holmes, who flushed for a double-digit lead.
"That was a big momentum changer," Simpson said. "That's a moment I'll never forget for the rest of my life."
That dunk forced Johnsonville to play catch up the rest of the way, and the Flashes trailed by at least 10 until the 3:16 mark in the fourth quarter. Talford ended any hopes of a comeback with a putback, and Holmes fittingly closed the game with a one-handed dunk at the buzzer.
Jemarcus Culp and Brandon Criscoe rounded out Great Falls' scoring with 13 and 12 points, respectively. The Red Devils lose five seniors - Holmes, Simpson, Criscoe, Ernest Talford and Nate Talford. Great Falls broke a tie with Charleston - a school that no longer exists - for the record.
Now the question turns back to Smith. Will he back for a run at his 900th career coaching win, a 20th state championship appearance and ninth state title?
"That question will be answered with a decision June 1," Smith said. "With the seniors we've had the last four years, I have to make sure I have the drive and desire to be here. Of course, of course I want to be at Great Falls."
GREAT FALLS 79, JOHNSONVILLE 61
Johnsonville: Erion Black 10, Cordea Wilson 12, Chris Hicks 3, Aaron Mack 18, Tately Anderson 8, Tushai Anderson 2, Antron Davis 2, Arkelious Williams 6. Great Falls: Brandon Criscoe 12, Shaquille Simpson 10, Ernest Talford 22, Jemarcus Culp 13, Xavier Holmes 22.
3-pointers: Johnsonville 4 (Wilson 4), Great Falls 6 (Criscoe 2, Holmes 2, Culp 1, Simpson 1). Team fouls: Johnsonville 17, Great Falls 14. Records: Johnsonville 21-6, Great Falls 28-1