Anticipation was so big for the ME-GA 7 3A/4A matchup between top-ranked Olympic and third-ranked Harding that the gym at Olympic was packed and people were turned away two hours before tipoff.
Fans did not leave disappointed, as Olympic saw a double-digit lead disappear, then trailed by three in the fourth quarter, but put the clamps down, finishing the game on an 8-2 run to escape with a 65-62 victory over the Rams, earning at least a share of their fourth straight conference championship.
"Wow, that's about all I can say," Olympic coach Ty Baumgardner said. "Tonight showed the character this team has because that was a tough basketball game."
Olympic (22-0, 10-0) seemed to take control of the game in the second quarter behind senior guard Allerik Freeman, who scored 10 of his 12 first-half points in the second, turning a one-point Harding lead into a 34-25 advantage at the break.
Olympic kept the momentum early in the third quarter, pushing the lead to 49-36 midway through the quarter.
But that's when Harding (17-4, 6-4) began its comeback. The Rams cut the lead to 51-48 at the end of the third, then took the lead in the fourth when Jarvis Haywood converted two three-point plays, the second at the 4:51 mark, and Harding led 58-55.
With the Harding lead at 60-57, Olympic clamped down on defense, holding Harding to one basket the rest of the way.
The Trojans scored the next six points, four from the free-throw line, to take a 63-60 lead.
Harding had opportunities, but Haywood was forced into tough shots on consecutive possessions in the final 1:13, and Josh Smith hit two free throws late to push the lead to 65-62. With six seconds left, Harding had one final shot, but Emmanuel Patton's three-point attempt was blocked by Freeman at the buzzer.
"Our program is based on defense, so we had to make stops," Freeman said. "That shot could've gone down, but to stop the final play with a block, I'm happy about that."
Freeman led Olympic with 21 points. Smith added 17 and John Brown had 10. Haywood led all scorers with an impressive 26-point effort for Harding, while Patton and Aaron Linton had ten points each.