Earle exploded for 48 second half points, rolling to a convincing 72-47 victory over conference rival Manila in the finals of the Class 3A State Championship Thursday afternoon at the Summit Arena in Hot Springs.
(Town Crier photo/Ron Kemp)
Manila's Blake Wheeler tied the score on a driving lay-up to begin the third quarter and was fouled. Wheeler misfired on his attempt to complete the three point play, leaving the score tied at 24 all.
The Bulldogs took the lead for good on a three pointer by 6'8" center Michael Perkins at the 7:08 mark. Perkins followed with his second straight trey on Earle's next possession, giving the Bulldogs a 30-24 lead, and Earle never looked back.
(Courtesy photo/Larry Towell)
A three point play by tournament Most Valuable Player Dionte Wiliams pushed the Bulldog lead to 33-26 with 5:09 to go in the quarter. Wheeler responded seven seconds later with a long three pointer to cut the deficit to 33-29, but Earle went on a 10-0 run to push the lead to 43-29 at the 2:48 mark.
Kam Ashabranner broke the Manila scoring drought with a free throw, cutting the margin to 43-30, but the Lions could get no closer as the Bulldogs went on to record the school's sixth state title.
(Town Crier photo/Ron Kemp)
"I am disappointed that we didn't have a better showing today," continued Taylor. "I feel like I coached a poor game, we played a poor game, it was just not a good day for us. I take full responsibility for that. We are a better team than we showed today. Earle is a tremendous team and a deserving champion. They are really, really, really good. I give them all the credit. I do feel like we are a much better team than we showed today, and once again that falls back on me. We thought we were prepared, and we weren't. Earle has so many weapons. It was very difficult to keep up with their speed."
"We picked one of the worst times to have one of our worst performances," said Taylor. "There was no area that I felt good about as the game ended. It was a terrible way to end our season."
"On the positive side, this year was an amazing turnaround for our school," said Taylor. "I know a lot of people would judge us by today, but that's not a fair judgment. We have come a million miles in our program in a year. This is not who we are. We have played Earle five times and have competed with them four. Today is not indicative of our program. I am proud of how we have turned it around, giving our fans and town something to be proud of. I hope, and I believe they will, still be proud of us, despite our performance today."
Williams finished the day with a team high 20 points while teammates Perkins and Michael Wilson recorded double-doubles, scoring 15 points and snaring 13 rebounds apiece. Allen also hit double digits, scoring 12 points. Earle hit 39 percent of its field goal attempts, including 53 percent in the pivotal second half. The Bulldogs were five of 16 from beyond the three point arc and came away with 11 steals, five by Allen and four from Williams.
Wheeler closed his stellar Lion career with a game high 21 points. Ashabranner notched a double-double, scoring 11 points while grabbing 10 boards, but was plagued by foul problems, sitting out over seven minutes of the game before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Levi Wallace scored nine points while pulling down 13 rebounds. Taylor Morgan netted three while Garrett Scott tallied two points and 11 boards. Zack Day contributed one point for the Lions.
The game was tied five times and had 10 lead changes, mostly in the first half. Manila led 12-8 after the first quarter before Earle rallied for the halftime edge.
"We just had to play our game," said Bulldog coach Billy Murray. "They can't run with us, and our running wasn't what it should have been, but it was good enough to win. I compliment Coach Taylor and his team. They put up a good fight. They are a very good basketball team."
Manila finishes the season with a 29-7 record while the Bulldogs capped off their year with a 29-5 mark.