ST. PETERSBURG — There was no denying that if given the opportunity Dayon Griffin was going to assume the closer’s role in the final seconds of Saturday’s Class 8A region final.
Throughout the game, the St. Petersburg senior was clutch along the perimeter with six 3-pointers, including several what-the-heck heaves from beyond NBA range.
So with 0.5 seconds left and his team trailing by two in overtime, Griffin asked for the ball during a timeout. His teammates obliged, giving him an open look. Griffin squared up and lofted a shot that missed off the back of the rim in an 80-78 loss to Winter Park.
After watching the ball not bounce his way, Griffin dropped to the ground as teammates and fans surrounded him. He walked off despondently, his jersey pulled over his head to mask his disappointment.
“Dayon was a senior, and we all knew he was going to take that shot,” Green Devils coach Chris Blackwell said. “It was either hit it and we go to Lakeland (for the state final four), or miss it and we end up having a nice season.
“Dayon had a great look. The ball just didn’t fall through for us. Still, you can’t take anything away from his performance.”
St. Petersburg (21-4) was playing at home in the region final for the third time in the past five seasons and was trying to reach the state final four for the first time since 2012. The Devils Den was packed, most fans clad in white T-shirts.
That environment ignited St. Petersburg, which rallied from a 31-27 deficit to score the final eight points of the second quarter for a 35-31 halftime lead.
The second half was an up-and-down game, both teams making runs but neither able to seize control. In the final seconds of regulation, the Wildcats had the ball but missed at the buzzer.
The Green Devils had a 76-74 lead with 1:48 left in overtime when Winter Park bore down, outscoring St. Petersburg 6-2 in the end. Spencer Rivers, the son of Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, hit three free throws in that span.
With 0.5 seconds remaining, Rivers was fouled and sent to the line with the Wildcats clinging to a 79-76 lead. But Winter Park was called for a technical foul after players on the bench rushed onto the floor in celebration with time still remaining.
Rivers hit one of his free throws. Griffin went to the line and made both. That set up his potential winning shot.
Griffin finished with a team-high 32 points. Teammate and fellow senior Ben Clare dominated inside with 20 points. Terrell Burney, a junior, scored 17, including three 3-pointers.
“We ran up against a really good team, but the game could have gone either way,” Blackwell said. “We were home. The gym was packed. It was a great environment. And we were confident. We really thought we had a shot at this one.
“Still, it’s hard to be disappointed because of how hard my guys played.”