(Town Crier photo/Ron Kemp)
The Red Devils, who had won the last two Class AA State Championships, never led in the game, but trailed only 13-11 after the first quarter. But the Mustangs exploded in the second period by nailing six three-pointers, and outscored Altheimer 25-10 to take a 38-21 lead into the dressing room at halftime.
The three-point barrage came from the threesome of Hunter Smith, Josh Nettles and Brandon Ballard. Smith scored all of his nine points by hitting three straight treys while Nettles hit two and Ballard drilled another as the Mustangs had little trouble solving Altheimer's vaunted zone defense, the trademark of the Red Devils.
BIC continued their onslaught in the third quarter, outscoring the Red Devils 17-12 to enter the final frame with a commanding 22-point lead, 55-33. Derek Rolland, who finished with a career-high 19 points, scored 10 in the third period, including 8-8 from the free throw line. The 5-11 junior forward finished the night 11-13 from the charity stripe in addition to dishing out several assists while playing his usual solid defense. Brooks Taylor led the Mustangs with 20 points, including 14 in the first half. Brandon Ballard controlled the Mustang offense and finished with 13 points while Nettles scored seven and Cord Rose added three.
BIC finished the night 21-46 from the field and 8-21 from the three point line. The Mustangs hit 18 of 28 free throws.
Altheimer was led by Steven Barnett with 20 points while Charles Moore, a UALR signee, scored 14 and Darnell Manuel added 10. The Red Devils finished 11-16 from the charity stripe and hit three treys, all by sophomore Alfred Burton.
After entering the fourth quarter with a 22-point deficit, Altheimer made one last charge and cut the deficit in half to 11, behind Burton's three-point barrage. Following a BIC turnover, Barnett launched a three that would have cut the lead to eight, but the shot didn't drop and with it went the Red Devils' last chance to pull out a come-from-behind win.
"We beat a champion," said BIC Coach Bill Taylor. "We beat a team that wasn't going to go down easy. We hit all the shots in the first half and then sort of held on after that. The second quarter was the key. This team is capable of getting hot from the three-point line and that's what it took to open up the lead. Josh (Nettles) and Hunter (Smith) hit some big threes in that second quarter run. With Hunter, if he gets the first one to go, the second one is probably going to fall as well.
"Without question, Derek Rolland was the player of the game. He played an awesome basketball game. He had a career high 19 points, made some great passes, he was just awesome. Brooks got his usual 20 like he always does against a really good team. Brandon handled the pressure and made some great passes and I am very thankful and thrilled to have the opportunity to play with number four (Ballard) on my team one more time. Cord Rose also played great defense. It was just a total team effort. We knew Altheimer would not go away and they fought back like true champions. But I knew if someone was going to beat us today, they were going to have to beat us. We were not going to give it to them."