Friday night's Class AA State Tournament game between Buffalo Island Central and Charleston turned out to be a battle of two heavyweights.
When the final bell had rung, BIC landed the last few punches and came away with a hard-fought 75-66 victory over a very strong Charleston Tiger team making its fifth straight state tournament appearance.
An overflow crowd of more than 2,000 packed the Dog Palace on the campus of Sloan-Hendrix High School in Imboden to watch quite possibly the best game of the tournament.
The Tigers, with a senior-laden starting lineup, led by 6-4 post player Jeff Terry, son of Charleston coach Randy Terry, served notice early that he would be a force to be reckoned with on the inside, as he scored 11 of his team high 19 points in the first half before having to take a seat after picking up his third foul early in the second quarter.
BIC led 12-8 midway through the opening period before the Tigers rallied to take an 18-17 lead entering the second frame. Charleston added to their lead in the second quarter, outscoring BIC 22-15 to take a 40-32 margin into the dressing room as the Mustangs faced their first halftime deficit since before Christmas.
BIC rallied in the third quarter and cut the Tigers' lead to 51-46, entering the final quarter, setting up what would be a final frantic 3:30 of basketball. Terry, who sat out much of the second half after picking up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, watched his teammates cling to the lead behind the outside shooting of Drew Hill and Zac Robinson.
But it was in the fourth quarter when the Mustangs showed their toughness as they rallied behind their two stars, Brooks Taylor and Brandon Ballard, to take control of the game late and pull out the thrilling victory, setting off a frenzy among the Mustang faithful.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Mustangs cut the lead to one on two occasions, the last time with 3:30 remaining, when Taylor, who led all scorers with 44 points, nailed two free throws. Terry answered with a field goal and was fouled, completing the three-point play, to put the Tigers back up by four, 63-59. Taylor again went to the free throw line, sinking two more charity tosses, to bring the Mustangs to within two, 63-61.
It was then that the Mustang defense took over. Junior forward Derek Rolland stole the inbounds pass and fed Taylor for a driving layup, tying the game for the first time since the first quarter at 63-63. Ballard then made another steal, drove the length of the floor, and gave the Mustangs a 65-63 lead they would never relinquish. Rolland and Cord Rose forced two more turnovers and the Mustangs scored each time as they built an eight-point lead, 71-63.
Charleston guard Zach McClure hit one last trey for the Tigers to make the score 71-66, but Taylor and Ballard combined for four straight free throws to put the game away and set up a semifinal showdown between the Mustangs and two-time defending Class AA State Champion Altheimer.
Ballard backed Taylor's 44 points with 22 of his own, including six in the last 3:30 of the game.
In addition to Terry's 19 points, Charleston had two other players in double figures with Hill scoring 17 before fouling out midway through the fourth period, while Robinson added 13 more, including three treys.
Charleston, 24-4, hit 20-50 from the floor while making 21-24 from the charity stripe. The Tigers finished with five three-pointers on the night.
BIC, now 40-3, shot 21-47 for the contest and made 27-33 free throws. The Mustangs connected on 6-14 from beyond the three point line, including two from senior Josh Nettles, who finished with eight points. One of Nettles' treys came late in the game during the BIC rally which helped propel the Mustangs to victory.
Taylor scored 25 of his points in the second half, including 9-11 from the free throw line in the final period alone.
"Brooks showed what he was all about tonight," said BIC coach Bill Taylor. "That was an amazing performance. His teammates were finding him and he also made good on his free throws.
"Our team showed what we were made of tonight. This is a very tough team. We've been called soft before, but that is not the case anymore. We beat a very good basketball team tonight who probably has the best post player in Class AA. I was very proud of my team. They just refused to lose. Brandon (Ballard) made some huge plays in the closing minutes and as always Derek (Rolland) and Cord (Rose) played outstanding defense. Nettles (Josh) also came up big with a huge three in the fourth period. This is a special group of kids. Now we have to go home and get rested because we are going to face the two-time defending state champions (Altheimer) tomorrow night."
"Our fans were just super tonight," said Brandon Ballard. "They are the best fans in the world. Brooks (Taylor) is just a great player and our defense really kept us in the game tonight."
"He (Ballard) is the man," said Brooks Taylor, as he pointed toward his teammate."He does everything for us. It is such a thrill to play with him. Charleston has a very good team. Their big man (Terry) was just a monster on the inside."