What a difference a week makes. A week ago Saturday, Buffalo Island Central looked like anything but a team headed for a State Championship game when Earle dismantled the Mustangs in the Regional finals. But BIC Coach Bill Taylor said after that game he still believed in his team and that they could still win the State Championship. Saturday night's 60-56 win over Valley Springs gives the Mustangs just that chance as they will meet Altheimer in the finals of the Class AA State Tournament Saturday afternoon at 3:00 at Alltel Arena in North Little Rock.
BIC won their third straight hard fought game as they battled past a very tough and determined Valley Springs team which refused to give up. But in the end, the Mustangs proved too tough as they punched their ticket for the second straight year and now have the chance to win back to back State titles for the second time in school history.
The win didn't come easily for BIC as they battled the Tigers on even terms throughout the first half. BIC started the game as if they might make it a blow out when the Mustangs drilled six first quarter treys to build an 18-9 lead. Hunter Smith started the barrage to give BIC a 3-2 lead and after a Valley Springs three pointer, tournament Most Valuable Player Brooks Taylor answered with one for the Mustangs. Smith connected on back to back three pointers before Cord Rose hit consecutive treys of his own as the Mustang faithful in the packed Jessieville Sports Arena roared their approval.
But the Tigers fought back and closed to within 18-13 to end the first period. Valley Springs turned up their defense in the second quarter and held the Mustangs without a three pointer while the Tigers began to score from the inside and clawed their way even to knot the score at 30-30 at the half.
The third quarter mirrored the first for the Mustangs as Smith opened with back to back three pointers. The Tigers got even again, 36-36, at the 4:49 mark before the Mustangs went on a 10-2 run with Taylor scoring all 10 points, including a pair of treys, giving BIC a 46-38 lead with 2:30 to go. But the Tigers scratched their way back again by closing the quarter with a 5-0 run. Elliott Wobker's three point play and a five foot leaner by Landon Sullins provided the Tiger's points.
Valley Springs pulled even early in the fourth quarter on a pair of free throws by Caleb Cooper, tying the score at 46-46 with 7:16 left in the game. Taylor's driving lay-in gave BIC a brief 48-46 lead before Wobker tied the score one last time, 48-48, with a driving lay-up of his own with 4:52 left.
Neither team could find the basket over the next two minutes as Smith misfired from long range for the Mustangs while Valley Springs missed two point blank shots down low that would have given the Tigers the lead. On the next Mustang's possession, BIC's Jordan Phillips appeared to be fouled underneath the Valley Springs goal But after a time out Hunter Smith stepped to the free throw line and despite protest from Valley Springs Coach Walter McElroy, the six foot senior calmly sank both ends of the one and one to give BIC the lead for good, 50-48, with 2:58 to go in the game.
Valley Springs appeared to be headed for a lay-up but Phillips came up with a steal and the Mustangs closed the game out at the free throw line to gain their second consecutive trip to the State title game.
Joining Taylor in double figures for the Mustangs was Smith who poured in 17 points, including five three pointers. Cord Rose finished with six points, Phillips had four, while Derek Rolland added two for BIC, who improved to 35-5 on the year. BIC finished the night 24-32 from the free throw line and 10-23 from three point range.
Wobker led Valley Springs with 23 points while J.R. Andreson added 11 more. The Tigers shot a blistering 62 percent from the field, going 21-34 but made just 3-8 from beyond the three point arc. The Tigers made 11-16 from the foul line.
"We are really proud to get to go back to Alltel Arena for the State Championship," said BIC Coach Bill Taylor. "It is a special experience. But we are not going just to be going. We are going to try to win the doggone thing. We know we have got a great opponent in Altheimer. They looked awesome today, beating Earle the way they did. But the good Lord has blessed us and we are fortunate to have these opportunities. I have great respect for Valley Springs and the effort they put forth tonight. We had a couple of break downs in the fourth quarter defensively, and they missed the chip shots and that changed the game. Tonight the basketball gods were smiling. But we can't count on that luck again. We will have to execute better on Saturday. We made just enough plays to win. Hunter Smith had a great tournament shooting the ball and he got us off to a great start tonight. Derek Rolland did his usual great job on defense. Jordan Phillips' steal was a huge, huge play when Valley Springs was headed for a lay-up. Cord Rose stripped the ball when it looked as though Valley Springs would get a put back, but that's what winners do, they make big plays. With all the obstacles we had in front of us, I am really dumbfounded and amazed that we made it back again this year. I am really thankful."