Manila hoped to avenge its only loss of the season when they faced East Poinsett County in the finals of the Northeast Arkansas Invitational Basketball Tournament Wednesday night at the Convocation Center in Jonesboro, but the Warriors used a strong second half to pull away for a 53-40 victory, claiming the 1A-2A-3A championship.
EPC began the second quarter with an 8-0 run, capped off by an offensive stick-back from junior point guard Ky Madden with 3:21 left in the half, giving the Warriors a 12-8 lead. Helton nailed his second triple of the game, and followed up with a 12-foot jumper, putting Manila back on top 13-12 at the 1:37 mark. Six foot eight inch junior center Garrett Scott completed a three point play, giving the Lions a 16-12 lead with 1:00 to go in the half before Madden hit one of two free throws with 32 seconds left, sending Manila into the dressing room with a 16-13 lead at intermission.
The Warriors started strong in the third period, outscoring the Lions 8-2 to grab a 21-18 lead before Blake Wheeler's three pointer tied the game 21-21 at the 5:24 mark. The Warriors took the lead for good when Darius Barnes flipped in a five-foot runner with 5:10 left in the half, putting EPC up 23-21. Byron Ford closed the quarter with a pair of treys sandwiched around an A.J. Turner basket, giving the Warriors a 31-27 edge heading into the final frame.
Back to back triples by Jori Ford and Byron Ford gave EPC a 39-29 lead with 4:24 left in the game. The lead quickly swelled to 14 points when the Lions were ticketed for an intentional foul at the 3:20 mark. Manila coach Bill Taylor argued vehemently over the call and was tagged with a technical foul, sending Madden to the line where the major college prospect sank four consecutive free throws, giving the Warriors a 43-29 bulge.
The lead grew to 47-30 before the Lions made one last attempt to rally late in the game. Wheeler drilled a three pointer with 1:45 left before Kam Ashabranner drove the lane for two points. Helton nailed his third trey of the game to cut the margin to single digits, 49-40, but it was too little too late as the Warriors scored the final four points of the game, handing the Lions their second loss of the season.
Madden led all scorers with 23 points, including a 15-17 performance from the foul line. The Warriors connected on 17-24 foul shots as a team. Byron Ford also hit double digits for EPC scoring 13 points, including three treys.
"I thought we played an outstanding game defensively all night long," said EPC coach Josh Hill. "We played terrible offensively in the first half, but we were only down three points at the half. We had some wide open looks, but just couldn't knock them down. In the second half we did. Coaching a team with only one senior and getting a win in a packed environment like we did tonight bodes well for our team in the future. This was a great game for us. I am very proud of the kids."
"They are a really, really good team," said Lion coach Bill Taylor. "We've got a good team also, but we have problems matching up with them. We had some open looks and it just seemed like every three we shot fell short tonight. The intentional foul and the technical foul I got were the turning points in the game. I thought it was a horrible call. I am not going to lie or sugar coat it. It was ridiculous. It wasn't an intentional foul and it changed the complexion of the game, and then my technical foul eliminated any chance for us to win. But that doesn't take anything away from EPC. They have a great team."
Helton led the Lions with 11 points while Garrett Scott pitched in nine. Wheeler and Wallace tallied eight points apiece while Ashabranner added four.
The Lions advanced to the finals with a 63-54 come from behind victory over Bay in Monday night's semifinals.
Levi Wallace led the Lions with 20 points while Blake Wheeler and Kam Ashabranner added 18 and 16 points respectively. Garrett Scott scored seven while J.J. Helton added two points. Manila drilled four three pointers and made 21-29 foul shots.
Bay's Gunner Freeman led all scorers with 23 points while Ryan Reagan added 10. The Yellowjackets hit three treys and nailed 19-20 free throws.
Bay jumped to a 20-12 lead after the opening period before Manila rallied to pull to within 33-30 at the half. The Lions took a 45-44 lead into the final quarter and the two teams swapped leads throughout the final frame.
Freeman hit a pair of free throws with 2:50 left to tie the score at 54-54, but Ashabranner came up with the play of the game, stealing the ball and driving the length of the floor for a layup, giving the Lions the lead for good, 56-54. Manila hit five of six free throws down the stretch, scoring the game's final nine points to advance to the championship game.