SPRINGFIELD -- It is not very often a team gets to end its basketball season with a win.
While it was not in the game the Jefferson City Jays wanted to be in Saturday, the Jays concluded their season with a 79-76 victory against the Pembroke Hill Raiders at Great Southern Bank Arena to grab third place in Class 5.
The third-place finish marks the best finish for Jefferson City since winning its only state title in 1993.
“A lot of people have a love-hate relationship with the third-place game at the Final Four, myself included,” Jefferson City coach Josh Buffington said. “I’ve been in this game several times as a coach and even as a player. I hated it up until tip-off.
“Knowing that you have the chance to be one of the two teams in Class 5 to end your season with a win? It’s a great feeling right now.”
Gallery: Class 5 Boys Basketball Third-Place Game -- Jefferson City vs. Pembroke Hill
Saturday also marked the opportunity for the Jays’ three seniors -- Tripp Maassen, Steven Samuels and Cole Heller - to end their high-school basketball careers on the right note.
And Samuels took full advantage of his last chance to put on a Jefferson City jersey by scoring 18 of his 24 points in the second half to help keep the Raiders at bay.
“I mean it was really fun,” Samuels said. “I got in foul trouble in the first half and I just really didn’t want to be on the bench with my guys out there fighting. I’m just glad they kept believing in me and trusting me, it let me come up big in those final two quarters.”
Saturday’s performance pushed Samuels past the 1,000-point mark for his career in his final game.
“I didn’t even know until just now,” Samuels said. “It feels good, it just feels good. All the work I put in, this was one of my goals I had for my high-school career. To be able to get it in the last game with a win just feels good.”
While Samuels carried the load in the second half, it was the Jordan Martin Show in the first two quarters.
Martin poured in 24 of his game-high 34 points in the first half -- including four and-1s and two dunks in his 11-for-15 shooting performance before halftime.
“It was my last game playing with the seniors and I wanted to come out strong and have a good game for them,” Martin said. “I wanted to make sure they went out with a win.”
It was a shootout all morning long at GSB Arena, as both teams looked to get out and run in transition every available chance.
After the Jays had the pace slowed on them by opponents in the past four postseason contests, they were pleased to get in a style of basketball game that fit their brand again.
“It was refreshing,” Buffington said. “We knew it was going to be an up-tempo game. … A lot of kids out there making plays today on that court from both sides.”
Freshman Mavrick Hawkins got hot for Pembroke Hill in the first quarter, knocking down triples on three consecutive possessions in part of the Raiders jumping out to an 18-13 lead.
“When he see that first one go down, he only gets more confidence,” Pembroke Hill coach Jeff Hawkins said. “That’s just like any of our players, once they see one go they get a tremendous amount of confidence.”
Jefferson City quickly went on a 5-0 run to tie the game at 18 with 1:31 left, but the Raiders closed the quarter on a 6-0 run to take a 24-18 advantage to the second.
“I did not expect to give up 24 points in the first quarter,” Buffington said.
The run extended to 11-0 to start the second to push Pembroke Hill ahead 29-18 before matching the 11-point lead again at 32-21 just under a minute into the quarter.
But the Jays answered with a 19-5 run to take the lead -- tying the game at 37 on a Rowen Buffington 3 before Martin gave his team a 40-37 lead on an and-1 layup with 1:03 left before halftime.
Jefferson City would hold the momentum and take a 44-42 lead into intermission.
“That was huge,” Buffington said. “I knew our guys weren’t going to just lay down. We have been in that situation, not only in this postseason but a few times in the regular season, too. We’ve always made a flying run at somebody, including last night.”
Pembroke Hill opened the second half with a 7-0 run to move ahead 49-44 but Samuels started to will his team back.
Samuels scored eight of the Jays’ 13 third-quarter points to help carry a 57-55 lead to the final eight minutes.
Jefferson City grabbed the biggest lead of the game at 12 points by starting the fourth with a 10-0 run, but the Raiders came right back.
Pembroke Hill answered with a 9-0 run in a span of 1:03 to get within 67-64.
“It was a back-and-forth game,” Hawkins said. “… They made their run, we made our run.”
The Jays extended their lead back out to seven with 1:36 left after a Martin steal and layup, but the Raiders would end up having a chance to tie it in the closing seconds.
Ben Miller knocked down 1-of-2 free throws with 12.6 left to cut it to the final margin and Pembroke Hill got the ball back following a turnover on the ensuing in-bounds pass.
Martin blocked Max Sprott’s 3-point attempt out of bounds with 10 seconds left and Devin Conley’s deep attempt at the buzzer bounced off the back of the rim and out.
“We just beat a really, really good basketball team,” Buffington said. “Our guys played for our seniors and our seniors played for our other guys, as well.”
Darin Conley finished with a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds to lead Pembroke Hill (23-7), Hawkins was next with 19 points, Devin Conley added 13 and Miller chipped in 11.
Heller finished with nine points and Buffington added seven. Samuels finished with a team-high eight rebounds for Jefferson City (24-8).