Lions declaw Wildcats 57-46 to advance to state semifinals
Manila drilled six straight three pointers in the second half, breaking open a close game to advance to the semifinals of the Class 3A State Tournament with a 57-46 victory over Harding Academy Friday night at Jessieville.
The two teams battled on even terms in the first half which ended in a 24-24 tie. Both teams struggled to score early in the third quarter, but the Wildcats got back to back three pointers from Daniel Stevens and Raymond Dailey to take a 32-29 lead with 3:09 left in the period.
Manila caught fire from the outside, as junior J.J. Helton drained three straight treys, including a buzzer beater, to give Manila a 38-32 lead entering the final frame.
Helton continued his torrid shooting display, draining his fourth consecutive three pointer, giving Manila its largest lead of the night, 41-32, with 7:18 left in the game.
"I just got the feeling going on my shots," said Helton. "I didn't really think about it. All I wanted to do was to get to the final four. Just take one game at a time."
"I thought the turning point of the game was J.J. and Blake (Wheeler's) three point shooting," said Taylor. "Kam's (Ashabranner) decision making was much better tonight in the half court, finding the right people at the right place."
Harding Academy refused to quit and battled back, scoring the game's next seven points to cut the Lion lead to 41-39 at the 4:05 mark. But senior guard Blake Wheeler drilled back to back three pointers to push the Manila advantage back to 47-41 with 3:05 remaining.
Dailey cut the margin to 47-42, hitting one of two free throws with 1:47 left, but that was as close as the Wildcats would get, as Manila point guard Kam Ashabranner nailed six straight free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
"Big Chief (Garrett Scott) played really, really good, and Levi Wallace was playing on a bad ankle. I don't think people realize how much pain he is in. All five of our starters played well. Blake Carr gave us some nice minutes off the bench with a couple of steals and rebounds. It was just a total team effort all the way from the players to the assistant coaches," said Taylor.
"Our assistant coaches have done an outstanding job scouting the other teams in this tournament for me," said Lion coach Bill Taylor. "All through the post season they have done an awesome job giving me the information I need. We are showing how tough we are as a team this week. There is no substitute in sports for toughness, and we are showing how mentally and physically tough we are. Great win for our school."
Helton finished the night with 18 points, all on three pointers, to lead the Lions, while Wheeler pumped in 13 more, including three treys. Ashabranner also hit double digits, scoring 10 points, including a perfect six for six performance from the foul line. Wallace tallied nine while Scott pitched in seven more. The Lions out rebounded Harding Academy 27-16 and hit 16-21 free throws while finishing with nine three pointers.
Francis led the Wildcats with 14 points while Dailey added 13. Harding Academy made six treys and finished the night eight of 14 from the foul line.