Flagstaff’s Mike Becenti had only scored five points entering the final 20 seconds of Tuesday’s crosstown game between the Eagles and the hosting Panthers.
After Coconino senior big man Brennan Motes stole a pass at the top of the key and took it in for a bucket, making the back-and-forth game tied at 45, it looked like the teams were headed into overtime.
With just 12 seconds left, Flagstaff’s star guard Troy Yazzie -- who scored 24 points total -- beat a trap by spinning around a pair of Coconino defenders, made his way deep into the lane and found Becenti in the left corner.
Becenti sank a rainbow 3-pointer to give his team the lead with just two seconds remaining. Coconino was unable to convert on the final play and the Eagles took a dramatic 48-45 win at Coconino High School, avenging Coconino’s buzzer-beating win last season at Flagstaff High School.
“I trust Mike to make that and he did,” Yazzie said of his decision to kick it out to Becenti for the winning bucket.
The go-ahead shot wasn’t Becenti’s first of the year. The senior two-sport athlete came in clutch during the Greenway Holiday Tournament, hitting a last-second shot to beat the hosting Greenway Demons.
“That’s the second time Mike’s done that for us this year. First time was down at Greenway, so I’m glad he got the jitters out and got it done here,” Eagles head coach Nick Walton said.
“Heck of a job by Troy to trust his teammates and make that pass. Only he could see it and Mike did a nice job of being confident and knocking it down,” he added.
The win caps off a long season for the Eagles, who finished at 6-13 overall and 5-7 in the Grand Canyon Region. The Eagles likely knocked the Panthers off the playoff bubble, as Coconino sat at 24th in the 4A Conference heading into the day. Coconino finished the regular season 8-10 overall and 8-4 in the region.
The Eagles have now beaten Coconino on the road each year since 2012 and avoided being swept by the Panthers in the season series with the victory in the team's 50th all-time meeting on the hardwood.
The win was extra sweet for Becenti, who said following the game that he had never beaten Coconino during his varsity career for either basketball or football.
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“I’ve been telling (my teammates) all night that I haven’t beat Coconino in my four years at Flagstaff. And we knew tonight was the night,” he said.
For Panthers head coach Mike Moran, although he would have liked to see his team hold on to its first-half lead, he is proud of how his young group played all year despite the possibility of missing out on the playoffs.
“I am extremely proud of what we accomplished this year," he said. "The kids showed a lot of class, great sportsmanship, always a hand up for our opponents, never an issue throughout the season. I’m so proud of how hard they played and how much they have grown from this year.”
“Troy Yazzie is the most valuable player in the league,” Moran added of Yazzie’s season.
The Panthers -- who started all four of their seniors in Tanner McNeese, Cooper Rodgers, Theron Olney and Brennan Motes in honor of their final home game -- led for the entire first half and well into the third quarter until the 5:28 mark when the Eagles tied it at 24-all off a Yazzie pull-up jumper.
Yazzie’s jumper extended a shorter run into what ended as a 13-0 scoring burst for the Eagles as they took their first lead in the quarter and finished the run up 35-26 nearing the end of the third quarter.
Flagstaff led by as much as 10 in the fourth until the young and scrappy Panthers started to spark a comeback try.
Over a two-minute span late in the fourth, the Panthers used a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to single digits. The scoring surge was highlighted by a deep 3 by Preston Olney after his teammate Avram Tijerin stole an errant Eagles pass on the prior inbounds.
Coconino’s Jacob Begay later had a chance at the foul line to cut the deficit down a bit more. He missed both but Preston, one of the smallest players on the court, nabbed an offensive board and scored on an And-1 bucket. He missed the chance at the three-point play, but the next sequence was when Motes came up with the steal to tie the game before Becenti’s game-winner.
Motes finished his afternoon with 21 points and was a presence inside on the glass and as a shot blocker. Yazzie led all scorers with his 24 points and ran the offense for the Eagles like he had all season.
“It feels great to end it on this note,” Yazzie said. “I’ll remember this game for the rest of my life.”