The Cyclones proved it in the second half of Saturday’s 4A state championship game in a sold out Salina Bicentennial Center. Ottawa’s supporting cast around Ojeleye was the difference.
Ottawa’s other players combined for 21 of the 31 points in the second half as the Cyclones pulled away from Highland Park, 54-45. It was Ottawa’s second state title and the first since 1971.
“The definition of a team is do what the team needs you to do and they’ve done it all year,” McKowen said. “It was great to see. When Semi got isolated one-on-one, we got him the ball and he goes and scores.
“He was done early in the fourth quarter and some other guys had to score.”
Ottawa handled the press and held the Scots scoreless for the first 5:30 of the fourth quarter. Ottawa built a 46-37 lead with 2:30 remaining.
“It was big ... we were not scoring either,” McKowen said of the defense. “The kids bought into a game plan like they do every year. Our length gave them some problems on the three-point line. We were able to get their feet off the three-point line. We had to bust back in transition.
“Our staple has been defense. It is kind of crazy because we have the state’s all-time leading scorer. We defend first. That is the only reason why we are 25-0. There has been a lot games this year we have had to grind out when things are not going well.”
“We did a good job of slowing down instead of speeding up,” Ottawa senior point guard Dallas Natt said. “Like when Alex [Hasty] had that back door pass when Kaden was wide open. We were about to call a timeout. A good thing he threw it.”
McKowen said Natt calmly directed Ottawa out of those pressure situations.
“Dallas Natt did an amazing job of breaking that press,” he said. “We were lost against the press a couple of time and Dallas had to bring it through. He got us some layups.”
The coach said the Cyclones take the best option offensively. Hasty put together two of his best scoring games of his career late in the season. He had 21 points in the sub-state final and netted 22 points in the win over Anderson County in the first round of state.
Another example is Natt has the ability to score more and the other seniors sacrificed game time for the sake of the team.
“Dallas Natt is a scorer playing point guard for us,” McKowen said. “I have got nine seniors. There is no JV for seniors. They come and battle in practice. They make us better. Without that we don’t win a state championship. I hope they understand that.
“It takes everybody.”
Natt even took it a bit further.
“That is one thing — our team — we are one unit at all times,” he said after scoring 12 points. “Our student section is our sixth man. They call out shooters. I am so grateful to have them.”
Hasty said teams and not individuals win titles.
“One-man team does not win a state championship,” he said. “We were the better unit.”
Ojeleye paid tribute to his teammates for his record-breaking success.
“On defense, offense, scoring at the right times, giving me the ball the right times, I couldn’t have done it without them,” he said.
Ottawa took everything thrown their way in this game and all season long.
“In a game like this, you are going to take some punches,” McKowen said. “I was happy we withstood all the runs. It got close a bunch. We dug deep and found a bucket to keep the lead.”
Hasty said Ottawa played with an inner-confidence and was not going to let anything get in the way of their goal.
“We have seen it all,” he said. “We have seen every type of player, every type of shot go in.
“Two years ago, we did not keep our cool. We were too fast with the ball. We played our speed. We played Ottawa basketball.”
Three straight state runner-up finishes drove Ottawa all season.
“Those bitter losses ... that is why this one is extra special,” Ojeleye, who had 27 points and 15 rebounds in his Cyclone finale, said. “Losing three years straight, you know what it takes to win. You know if you are not focused, you are not going to win it.”
Natt said, “Words can’t explain what we feel because of the heartbreak we have been through. Is this a dream? We finally get what we deserve. We played our butts off.
“Most teams would give up after being state runner-up three years in a row. To actually win it, it is awesome. We were going to take the challenge.
“We played every single second without looking back. Don’t have any regrets.”
McKowen said this was all about the players.
“I feel great for the kids,” he said. “For three years in a row, I had to watch them walk off the court and be disappointed. It has been a long time.
“The 1971 team is still rock stars in town.”
Highland Park (45) — Carr 9, Clark 1, Kyles 3, Wheeler 3, McMurray 18, Hunt 3, Fulton 8.
Ottawa (54) — Ojeleye 27, Hasty 6, Peters 4, Shaffer 5, Natt 12.