TACOMA — In the final moments of the 3A state championship game, Garfield freshman Jaylin Stewart threw down an alley-oop dunk off the backboard from Raphiel Justice, and Tari Eason walked back to mid-court with his hands in the air, turned toward the opposing fans, took a bow and flashed a peace sign.
On Saturday, on Washington high school basketball’s biggest stage, Eason and the Garfield Bulldogs would not be denied.
They held O’Dea to a season-low point total in a 69-44 win, to bring Garfield its sixth state championship in six years, and Eason’s bow marked the end of a dominant run that ended with the Bulldogs hoisting the 3A state championship trophy.
Eason scored a game-high 21 points including three 3s, pulled down 14 rebounds and seemingly made big play after big play.
“I told him, use your teammates, but we need you to be superman, too,” Garfield coach Brandon Roy said.
It’s Eason’s second title with Garfield in three years, as he transferred to Federal Way for his junior season as Roy took a year off of coaching.
When Roy, who previously won state titles with Nathan Hale (2017) and his alma mater Garfield (2018), returned to the sidelines this season, so did Eason to Garfield. The trust between the two, Roy said, was crucial in Eason establishing himself as the team’s leader.
On Saturday, Eason was every bit the hero Garfield needed. And amid the celebration, the 6-foot-9 senior was both overjoyed, and indignant.
“I’ve said it since the beginning of the season,” Eason said. “I worked so hard, and sometimes it’s under-appreciated, but this at the end is everything. This at the end means the world to me. I’m just so happy I can go on top a champion.”
WHAT MADE THE DIFFERENCE
Garfield hopped up to a quick 13-4 lead behind a 3-pointer and contested layup by sophomore point guard Koren Johnson, and a fast break dunk by Eason. The Bulldogs shot 52 percent from the field in the first half, hit 3 of 5 3-pointers, and built an early lead that O’Dea never came back from.
ONE BIG MOMENT
Tari Eason got the ball with seconds left in the first half in transition, and hit a deep 3-pointer to beat the buzzer and send the Bulldogs up 13 heading into halftime. After hitting the 3, Eason turned and mimicked an air guitar in celebration.
“Big time players step up in big time moments in big time games,” Eason said. “I think that’s what I had to do for my team to get the win.”
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Tari Eason, Garfield
Scored 21 points, posted 14 rebounds hit three 3-pointers in an overall dominant performance.
Paolo Banchero, O’Dea
Scored 16 points, grabbed 14 rebounds — six offensive — to lead O’Dea in both categories, but struggled from the free throw line (5 of 12).
Brandon Roy, Garfield head coach
I think as a coaching staff we just try to continue to be patient and understand it’s a long season. I sat around last year just thinking about the game, thinking about coming back and coaching, learning patience, you know, in the past we were 28-1, 29-0, so this year I wanted to grow a young team and it was really cool to see them come to the state tournament and dominate. We had Michael Porter Jr. and the best team in the nation and we didn’t run through the state tournament this way.