Nettleton was able to control the tempo and went on to ring in the New Year with a 41-37 victory over Manila in the Division II boys finals of the NEA Tournament Dec. 31 at the Convocation Center in Jonesboro.
"We knew we were in for a war and that's exactly what we got from Manila," said Raider coach Mark McCord. "They kept changing up their defenses and kept us off balance most of the night. They threw everything but the kitchen sink at us tonight. They had us out of sync, especially in the first half, but I thought we came of age in the second half. Brady Jones is a great offensive player. He is going to make his shots. Our strategy was to try and hold Eubanks under double figures and keep him off the offensive glass. We felt like if we could do that we would have a chance to win the game. We did a good job on him defensively tonight. We held him under those figures, which was quite a feat because he's a heck of a player. We beat a very solid team tonight and I am very proud of our kids for pulling out the win."
Nettleton held an 11-6 lead after the first quarter behind Victor Dukes' six points and a stingy Raider defense. The top seeded Raiders increased their lead to 13-6 to begin the second period before the Lions rallied, beginning with a three point play by Jones, who followed up with a long trey to pull Manila to within 15-12 at the 3:39 mark. A five-foot spinner in the lane by Eubanks cut the Raider lead to one before Jones sank a seven-foot floater, giving Manila its first lead of the night, 16-15, with 2:08 left in the half.
Nettleton turned up the defense in the third quarter while playing keep away with the ball to grab a 28-25 lead entering the fourth quarter. The big play of the period was Dukes explosive dunk over Manila's Dylan Bogle, which left the Lion senior sprawled in the end zone for several minutes, suffering from a cut lip. Manila managed just two field goals in the third quarter, one each by Jones and Eubanks.
The Raiders began to pull away early in the fourth period, opening up a 32-25 lead with 5:28 left. Nettleton then went to its four corners offense, but proceeded to turn the ball over two consecutive possessions while Manila stayed close, thanks to five of six free throw shooting by Bogle and Jones to cut the Raider lead to 33-30 with 1:46 remaining. Nettleton's John Nickle sank a pair of foul shots to push Nettleton up 35-30 before Jones answered with a 10-foot jumper at the 1:30 mark, pulling Manila to within 35-32.
The Lions made one last charge when Eubanks scored from eight feet with 16 seconds to go. Manila then came away with a turnover and Jones drained a long three pointer to pull the Lions to within 39-37 with just eight seconds left. Forced to foul, the Lions sent Nickle to the line with six seconds to go and the 6'2" senior calmly sank both ends of the double bonus to give the Raiders the 41-37 win.
"Nettleton's defense is really good, and we just didn't execute very well tonight," said Lion Coach Lee Wimberley. "I am proud of my kids. They battled. They got down a few times and could have folded, but they didn't. It got down to the end and Nettleton made two free throws. You have to give credit to them. A game against a team from the 5A East like Nettleton can only help us down the road."
Manila (10-4) was led by Jones' game high 24 points. Eubanks scored seven, Bogle had three, Dustin Sirmon pitched in two while Zac Riley added one. The Lions hit 11-14 foul shots but were held to one three pointer.
Dukes led the Raiders with 18 points while Nickle chipped in 11. Nettleton hit nine of 13 free throws, all in the fourth quarter. The Raiders drained two treys on the night.
Manila marched into the finals by defeating Valley View 58-48 in the quarterfinals, before upending East Poinsett County 66-56 in the semifinals.
The Lions knocked off defending Class 2A State Champions East Poinsett County behind former Warrior Brady Jones, who burned his old team with a game high 24 points, including four from beyond the three point arc. Scott Eubanks poured in 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to aid the Lion cause.
EPC sprinted to a 15-8 lead after the first quarter, but the Lions roared back in the second stanza, outscoring the Warriors 20-7 to grab a 28-22 halftime advantage. Jones had a pair of three pointers while Dustin Sirmon added a third trey to rally the Lions in the second quarter. Eubanks also added six points during the period.
Manila stretched its lead to 14 on back to back three pointers by Jones, taking a 41-27 lead with 4:15 left in the third period. EPC fought back to pull within 49-39 entering the final frame.
The Warriors got a pair of buckets to open the fourth quarter from last year's state tournament Most Valuable Player Jammar Sturdivant, cutting the Lion lead to 49-43 at the 6:55 mark. But Manila went on a 9-1 run, sparked by another three pointer from Sirmon, to push the Lion lead back to 58-44, and the Warriors never got closer than nine points the rest of the way.
Sirmon finished the night with nine points, Bogle had six while Zac Riley rounded out the Lion offensive attack with four points. Manila hit 16-23 free throws and drilled six three pointers.
Malik Monk led EPC with 23 points while Sturdivant added 12. EPC hit nine of 19 foul shots and finished with four treys.
Brady Jones began Manila's quarterfinal contest against Valley View by nailing three consecutive treys and the Lions went on to hold off a stubborn Blazer squad 58-48.
Manila led 15-11 after the first quarter as Jones scored 11 of the Lions' points. Scott Eubanks took over in the second period, scoring eight points to help the Lions to a 29-22 halftime advantage.
Valley View fought back in the third period behind 6'5" center Preston Grandy, who had 10 of the Blazers' 19 third quarter points to pull Valley View within 42-41 entering the final frame.
Grandy's bucket to begin the fourth quarter gave the Blazers a brief one point lead, but Jones connected on a pair of free throws with 6:11 left to give Manila the lead for good, 44-43. Zac Riley followed with a conventional three point play before Jones scored seven straight points to push the Lion lead to 11. A Dylan Bogle bucket off a slick pass from Eubanks and a free throw by Jones completed a 14-0 Lion run, giving Manila a 57-43 lead with 1:40 left. Valley View hurt its own cause by hitting just four of 19 free throws for the game, including a dismal three of 13 performance in the final period alone.
Jones led Manila with 24 points while Eubanks finished with 18. Caleb Reinhart scored seven, Bogle netted four, Riley tallied three while Sirmon chipped in two points. Manila finished 20-31 from the foul stripe and hit four three pointers.
Grandy led the Blazers with 20 points.
Brady Jones and Scott Eubanks were selected to the All-NEA Tournament team.