In what was pegged to be a match-up between the two best AA players in the state of Arkansas, Buffalo Island Central's Brooks Taylor and Junction City's James Anderson didn't disappoint a packed Jessieville Sports Arena Friday afternoon in the quarter-finals of the Class AA State Tournament.
Each player put on a show of their own with Anderson dominating the first half. But it was Brooks Taylor who stole the show in the second half as the 6'3" senior provided a strong defensive performance to go along with an outstanding offensive output in leading the defending State Champion Mustangs to a hard fought 64-56 victory over the Dragons, keeping BIC's repeat title hopes alive.
After watching Anderson pour in 21 first half points in leading Junction City to a 29-28 halftime advantage, BIC Head Coach Bill Taylor challenged his star player (Brooks Taylor) to guard the explosive 6'7" Junction City standout in the second half. The Mustang star did so in a big way as he limited Anderson to just four third quarter points while scoring 14 of his own in helping the Mustangs outscore the Dragons 21-14, giving BIC a 48-40 lead heading into the final quarter.
Taylor added 14 more points in the final quarter while Anderson managed only two until the last 36 seconds of the game, and by that time the Mustangs, behind eight straight free throws by Taylor, put the game out of reach as they advanced to Saturday night's semi-finals against Valley Springs.
Trailing by one point entering the second half, Taylor gave BIC a three point lead by ripping a three pointer from deep in the right corner as he fell into his own bench after being fouled. Taylor's free throw completed the four point play, putting the Mustangs up 32-29 at the 7:27 mark. A pair of free throws by Junction City's Vadereon Gray gave the Dragons their last lead of the game, 33-32, with 5:38 left in the third period. But back to back three pointers by Hunter Smith, followed by another triple by Taylor gave BIC their biggest lead of the night, 41-33, with 4:16 to go. BIC finished the quarter with a 48-43 lead.
Junction City made one last charge, pulling within 53-50 with 3:27 to go in the game when Gray hit the front end of a one and one. However, the 6'7" senior missed the bonus shot and BIC outscored the Dragons 11-6 the rest of the way to hold on for the victory.
Smith joined Taylor in double figures for the Mustangs with 15 points. Cord Rose and Derek Rolland notched three points apiece while Eric Wallace had two and Jordan Phillips added one. The Mustangs hit 54 percent of their field goal attempts and finished the day 19-26 from the foul line. BIC hit 7-18 from beyond the three point arc. Junction City, who held a 29-22 rebounding advantage, managed just 42 percent from the field while going 5-7 from beyond the three point arc. The Dragons were 15-21 from the foul line, including a 10-11 performance by Anderson. Gray was the only other Dragon in double figures with 12 points as they ended their season with a 26-6 mark.
"It was Brooks' defense that turned the game around tonight," said BIC Coach Taylor. "He also did a great job offensively, but he showed tonight what a complete player he is. This is the first time he has had to go out and guard the other team's best player, because we try to keep him out of foul trouble. But tonight he showed what a good athlete he is and that he is a very good defensive player. He did a very good job on the best player we have faced all year. Everything really clicked for us. Cord Rose did a great job handling the ball. He finished with zero turnovers. Eric Wallace, Jordan Phillips and Lance Davis did a good job in our three man rotation with their rebounding and defense. We looked good I thought."
"James Anderson is one of the best players I have ever seen," said Brooks Taylor. "It is a privilege playing on the same court. I was told I was going to guard him in the second half, and I was ready to go. We knew after the first half we had to do something different and I was ready to step up and was able to shut him down. I feel a lot more comfortable this year in the State Tournament, but I am not satisfied. We are 6-0 in State Tournament play, and if we can get to 8-0 we will have back to back state titles."