By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Sharife Cooper brushed off the suggestion that he likes to take the big shot.
His teammate and coach knew better.
Said Isaac Okoro, nodding in approval in the postgame press conference room: “He definitely likes it, yeah.”
Added coach Mike Thompson: “He’s a big-shot guy. He just won’t say it.”
With the game on the line, Cooper made the two biggest shots of the game.
His 3-pointer late in regulation tied the game and forced overtime. In overtime, he hit another clutch 3-pointer – this time a go-ahead trey that would lift McEachern (Ga.) to a 50-46 win over Sunrise Christian Academy in the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions title game.
For his efforts, Cooper received tournament MVP honors. The junior point guard is a prized recruit in the 2020 class and has scholarship offers from the likes of Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee.
“I wouldn’t want to take the credit,” said Cooper, who finished with 20 points. “It’s really a team effort. Everything my teammates did helped us get the win.”
McEachern is the first public school to win the Tournament of Champions since Memphis White Station in 2010.
“You have to understand, this is a pretty big notch in our belt,” Thompson said.
Okoro, an Auburn commit, added 13 points and 10 rebounds for McEachern (18-0 overall).
“It’s a blessing to win this,” Okoro said. “The teams that have won (this tournament), and now we’re one of them? It’s truly a blessing.”
With McEachern down by three late in regulation, Cooper drained a contested 3-pointer from the right corner.
He came through big again in overtime when he drove, passed and sprinted to the left corner.
“Every time I drive, I try to redirect to another spot,” Cooper said. “Once Isaac found me and I shot it, I knew it was going in.”
Shot, release, swish. McEachern led 48-46 with 26 seconds remaining. Sunrise missed a 3-pointer on its ensuing possession and McEachern made two free throws to seal the win.
“We guarded (Cooper) really well on the drive and… it looked like Steph Curry,” said Sunrise coach Luke Barnwell. “He passed it and sprinted to the corner. For one second, we take our eyes off him and he ended up making it.”
Sunrise led through the first three quarters.
McEachern took its first lead of the game (38-37) on a Jarod Jones 3-pointer at the 5:57 mark of the fourth quarter. The teams combined for only 13 points in the fourth quarter.
Nfaly Dante led Sunrise (14-3 overall) with 21 points and seven rebounds.
“It was definitely a tough loss. I know our whole team, including myself, wanted it real bad,” said Sunrise guard Grant Sherfield. “Sometimes, the ball doesn’t bounce your way. We just have to learn from this experience. We come back into the lab on Monday and we’ll get better.”
Saturday night’s title game, which tipped at 9 p.m. local time, had an announced crowd of 9,234.
“If you were in the city of Atlanta or something like that, you couldn’t draw half that many people to watch two teams that nobody knew,” Thompson said. “What you have (here) is so unique… Those people in the stands, they adopt you as a team.”
McEachern 50, Sunrise Christian Academy 46 (OT)
McEachern 5 14 13 9 9 — 50
Sunrise 12 10 15 4 5 — 46
McEachern – Sharife Cooper 20, Isaac Okoro 13, Alyn Breed 6, Quinton McElroy 6, Jarod Jones 5
Sunrise – Nfaly Dante 21, Grant Sherfield 8, Austin Crowley 7, Jordan Turner 7, Jalyn Turner 3
Sharife Cooper (MVP)-McEachern