For his Sumiton Christian Eagles — the regional tournament is a new experience.
Griffin and the Eagles hit the floor at the Northwest Regional Tournament today at Wallace State-Hanceville’s Tom Drake Coliseum in Sumiton Christian’s first ever trip to the state’s Sweet 16.
Sumiton Christian faces No. 7 Belgreen at 4:30 p.m.
So what kind of wisdom has Griffin passed on to his team as a five-time veteran of the Sweet 16?
“It’s just a basketball game,” the no nonsense Griffin said. “It’s a great setting and atmosphere, but when it comes down to it, it’s just a game. The team that keeps their head and plays their game has a chance to win.”
Griffin has guided Sumiton Christian to 41 wins over the last two years.
This year, Sumiton Christian (21-8) showed promise in the summer, winning most of its games. They continued that success once the season started.
“We lost two seniors off last year’s team, but I thought we still had a good chance to come back and do well again. We’ve practiced harder this year,” leading scorer DeMonte Hobbs said.
“We’ve got more experience as a team. We’ve really got more chemistry. We’ve come together,” added senior foward Austin Bice.
Sumiton Christian got past Lynn in the area tournament and fought No. 3 Parrish to the end in a 45-40 loss. The Eagles hit the road for the sub-region round of the playoffs and earned their first regional tournament berth with a 13-point win at Falkville.
Sumiton Christian’s players aren’t surprised at this year’s huge step forward.
“That last game against Parrish really opened my eyes,” said Hudson Davis, one of four seniors on the team. “Compared to every other time we played Parrish, that was a big improvement.”
In the area tournament championship game against the No. 3-ranked Tornadoes, the Eagles held a late lead and had possession of the ball facing a two-point deficit in the closing seconds. A turnover and Parrish free throws ended the Eagles’ chances.
Sumiton Christian lost its first two games against Parrish by an average of 22.5 points per game.
The Eagles turned the narrow Parrish loss into positive momentum and look to continue their playoff run today.
Belgreen (27-3) has one of the best records in Class 1A.
The Bulldogs’ success is based on their long-range shooting. Griffin said the team has made 12 3-pointers in each of its last two games and made as many as 17 3-pointers in a loss to Phillips this year.
““They can really shoot it,” Bice said. “They aren’t tall. Their tallest player is 6-2, but they can shoot it. They mainly play just six people. We play 10 nonstop. Hopefully, we can run with them. I predict if we hold them to five or six 3s, we can beat them.”
Sumiton Christian will have a height advantage tonight. Belgreen’s top six players are listed between 5-10 and 6-2. Sumiton Christian has two players over 6-4.
It’s not Belgreen’s height that impresses Griffin, though.
“I’ve been coaching 30 years. I don’t know if I’ve seen a team shoot that many deep 3-pointers,” Griffin said. “They’ve got two guys who shoot them from 25 feet. On offense, they always have three or four guys outside of the 3-point line. If they come out there and make a bunch of 3s, it’s going to be hard to beat them. It will take a good defensive effort from us.”
Griffin is preparing for his sixth trip to the regional tournament. He took Dora High School to Hanceville in 1995 and guided Gardendale High School to the Northeast Regional Tournament at Jacksonville State in 1999 and 2000. He also took the Rockets to Wallace State-Hanceville in both 2003 and 2004.
“Coach Griffin knows how to win. He gets you there,” senior forward Austin Williams said. “Now that we are (at the regional), it’s going to be awesome. We’ve got a chance to make a name for ourselves and do something great.”