(Town Crier photo/Ron Kemp)
The Mustangs, despite being ranked in the top five in the state both years, failed to make it out of regionals, denying them a shot at a state championship. Friday afternoon at Alltel Arena in Little Rock, all those doubts were erased as the Mustangs demolished the Bigelow Tigers 62-35 in one of the most lopsided finals in recent history in front of a record crowd for a Class AA State Tournament of 6,151.
BIC broke open a 4-2 game by going on a 12-0 run, led by the three point barrage of 6-4 senior point guard Brandon Ballard. Ballard hit three consecutive treys during the 12-0 run and the Mustangs never looked back as they rolled to a 41-14 halftime advantage. From then on, it was just a matter of what the final margin of victory would be as the Mustangs claimed their third state title in school history and their first since winning back to back titles in 1991-1992 and 1992-1993. Ironically, those two teams were coached by Bill(s older brother, Gaylon Taylor, now an administrator at Valley View High School.
(I am glad to catch my brother,( said Bill Taylor, who won his first state championship while coaching at Delta High School in 1989, giving the Taylor brothers two state titles apiece. (But seriously, I am so proud to win a state title at the same school as my brother. Gaylon was a great coach. I am proud of my whole family, my son, and all my brothers,( said Taylor.
The Mustangs had little trouble with the Tigers as they held Bigelow(s top two scorers, All-Staters Daron Hood and Matt Langston to a combined nine points. The pair entered the championship game averaging a combined 32 points per game. But it was the combination of Ballard and 6-3 junior guard Brooks Taylor that stole the show, as the Mustang duo combined for 40 points with Ballard finishing with 21 while Taylor poured in 19 more.
The Mustangs used a smothering full court press which gave the Tigers trouble all afternoon as BIC came up with eight steals while forcing the Tigers into 17 turnovers. BIC shot a blistering 57.5 percent from the field, including 62.5 percent in the first half. The Mustangs finished 7-14 from three point land while holding Bigelow to only 31 percent field goal shooting for the game and 16.7 percent from the three point arc. BIC also hit 81.8 percent from the foul line as they finished 9-11.Buffalo Island Central also dominated the boards by out-rebounding the taller Tigers 29-22.
Josh Nettles also hit for double figures for the Mustangs, finishing with 10 points, while Derek Rolland scored four, Cord Rose and Garrett Qualls each netted three, and Matt Ibanez added two to round out the Mustang stampede.
Bigelow was led by Reggie Evans, who came off the bench to score 11 points, the only Tiger to finish in double figures.
BIC finished the first quarter with a 24-9 lead and outscored the Tigers 16-5 in the second quarter to hold a commanding 27-point halftime advantage. BIC stretched its margin to 54-25 entering the final frame before Taylor emptied his bench, allowing all 15 players suited up to see state tournament action.
Ballard also grabbed 11 rebounds to finish with a double-double, while gaining All-State Tournament honors. The Mustang star also dished out four assists and nabbed four steals. Rolland, a 5-10 junior, also earned All-State Tournament honors, while Taylor was awarded the State Tournament(s Most Valuable Player trophy.
(Bigelow has a great group of guys,( said Bill Taylor. (But we came out relaxed and our shots were falling. Our seniors were not about to let us lose again. This sounds like we are apologizing for going 67-5 the last two years, but it just so happened we lost at the wrong times. We knew if someone was going to beat us, it wasn(t going to be because we were going to be uptight. I am the world(s worst about getting uptight, but we were not going to be denied and I am so very happy for our players and fans.
"I thought our defense was outstanding, especially holding Langston (Matt) to only two points. Brandon (Ballard) is the best player in the history of our school, make no mistake about that. He is a terrific player and deserves everything coming his way. A lot of colleges in this state need shooters, and they missed out on one here. Arkansas State University is getting a great one. In my opinion, he is the best shooter in the state. This has just been a magical year. I set up the schedule to try to get us beat, but we only lost to two 5A schools and to Bolivar, Tennessee. Our schedule had as much to do with our success as anything else we did today,( Taylor said.
(I felt like we had the advantage over Bigelow in playing in this size arena in front of this many people,( continued Taylor. (We(ve played eight games in the Convocation Center at the NEA Tournament the past two seasons. So we are used to playing in front of big crowds, and I think it helped prepare us for today(s setting. The Convocation Center is not as big as Alltel Arena, but it helped get us ready for this type environment,( concluded an ecstatic Taylor.
(I am so happy,( said Brandon Ballard. (I am trying not to think about it being my last game as a Mustang. BIC is a great program, and I am going to enjoy this now. It is a magical day. I am looking forward to my future in college and moving on with my career,( said Ballard..
(I think I am going to be in tears,( said Brooks Taylor. (I am really going to miss number four( said Taylor, as he pointed to his teammate, Brandon Ballard. When asked about a possible repeat for next season, Taylor responded by saying, (We are going to give it our best shot, but it will be very difficult. Brandon is the best player I have ever played with,( stated the younger Taylor.
With the victory, the Mustangs finished their incredible season with a 43-3 record. BIC also claimed the NEA Tournament Championship as well as going through the 3AA-North Conference with a perfect 14-0 record. The Mustangs extended their home winning streak to 49 games and also claimed the 3AA-North District Tournament as well as the Region 4 Title. The Mustangs advanced to the championship game by defeating Nevada County, Charleston, and two-time defending state champion Altheimer to reach Friday(s state finals.
BIC has a great team,( said Bigelow coach Craig Neumeier. (Unfortunately for us, we played the worst first half of basketball we have played all season, but you have to credit BIC for that. I was proud of the way we played in the second half. We played with a lot of heart. This was our first time ever to be in a state tournament, so we were very happy to be here. With the players we have returning, hopefully we will be back again next season,( concluded Neumeirer.
With the loss, the Tigers finished their season with a 32-5 record.