(Town Crier photo/Trent Fletcher)
EPC's Ked Madden scored the first five points of the game and it looked as though the Warriors might well be on their way to the upset, but the Mustangs' Brooks Taylor would have none of that as he pumped in a game high 32 points, including 20 in the first half, as BIC held off a late Warrior rally to claim a 65-59 non-conference victory before the largest crowd to date at the new Mustang Athletic Complex.
Taylor scored from inside and outside, wowing the large crowd which included Arkansas State University Head Basketball Coach Dickie Nutt, who has already signed one Mustang, senior Brandon Ballard, to a letter of intent.
Taylor, a 6'4" junior, rallied the Ponies from the early deficit as BIC claimed a 22-18 lead after the first quarter and then stretched their margin to 10 points, 42-32, at the half. BIC came out storming in the second half and led by as many as 20 points before the Warriors began to peck away at the Mustang lead to close the gap to 56-47 entering the final frame.
The two teams battled on even terms through most of the fourth quarter until EPC's Keon Joplin hit from 30 feet to pull the Warriors to within six points, 61-55, with 2:44 left in the game. Taylor then answered, giving BIC a 63-55 lead with 2:20 remaining. After an EPC free throw and a Mustang miss, Spencer Harston, who led the Warriors with 19 points, scored with 1:30 left in the game to make the score 63-58.
BIC then began to hold the ball, forcing EPC to foul and sending junior Cord Rose to the line with 50.1 seconds left to shoot the one and one. Rose, who salted away the NEA Championship game with four straight free throws, missed the front end of the one and one and the Warriors rebounded. Madden was then fouled and went to the line to shoot the double bonus for the Warriors. Madden missed the first but made the second to make the score 63-59.
The Warriors then stole the inbounds pass and got a time out with 42.5 seconds remaining. EPC had four shots at the basket to pull within two, but could not connect and the ball was knocked out of bounds with 23.1 seconds to play, with EPC still in possession. Harston took the inbounds pass and drove for the basket but was called for an offensive foul, giving the ball back to BIC with 15.8 seconds left. The Warriors were forced to foul, sending Derek Rolland to the line, where he iced the game for the Mustangs, hitting both free shots, setting the final score at 65-59 and sending a sigh of relief through the Mustang faithful.
"When we got the big lead we started playing too conservative," said Mustang Head Coach Bill Taylor. "We got stagnant on offense when we got the big lead. EPC would not quit and I expected that. I take a lot of the blame by letting the game slow down too much. We just couldn't put EPC away. But I am not surprised by that. They are a very good ball club. I thought Brooks played an excellent game. He is a very explosive player and his teammates got the ball to him inside tonight. I was pleased with our defense against Madden after he got off to his good start. The disappointing thing was we were out-rebounded and we didn't get to the free throw line enough. But the bottom line is it was a big win for our team."
"Our kids fought hard," said EPC Head Coach Joseph Simmons. "A lot of teams would have folded, especially in this atmosphere and playing in this new facility. But I thought our players showed a lot of heart and pride and that goes back to last year when we won the state championship. These kids just don't like to lose. We let Taylor score too much. He got 25 on us in the NEA and 32 tonight. We will have to watch film and work on a plan to try to slow him down. We didn't shoot free throws very well and that hurt us, but I am very proud of my kids. They showed a lot of heart coming back from a 20 point deficit against a great team like BIC."
Joining Taylor in double figures for the Mustangs was Ballard with 16 points, including four treys. Josh Nettles scored nine while Rose and Hunter Smith had three points each. Rolland rounded out the BIC attack with two points. The Mustangs, now 25-3 on the year, hit 7-12 from the charity stripe and nailed eight treys on the night.
Joining Harston in double figures for the Warriors was Joplin with 15 while Madden added 14 and Brandon Sturdivant netted 11 points. The Warriors managed only 12-20 from the free throw line and hit five three pointers on the night. With the loss, EPC drops to 11-6 on the season.
In junior high action, EPC came from behind to defeat the Junior Mustangs 56-48. Chris Davis lead the Warriors with 25 points, including four treys, while Brett Hardin pumped in 20 more.
BIC was led by Jordan Griggs' game high 28 points. Trevor Matheny scored nine, Nathan Perrin netted eight and Shane Barnes added three.
BIC led 15-9 after the first quarter and 29-27 at the half before the Warriors rallied to take the lead after three periods, 44-42.
BIC will return to action next week as they play two 3AA North Conference games, both on the road. Tuesday night BIC travels to Piggott and Friday night to Walnut Ridge.