Tuesday, March 13, 2012

SPORTS >> Mills surge no problem, Bears get championship

Leader sportswriter

HOT SPRINGS – Sylvan Hills had seen it before - Mills making a furious charge to turn a near blowout into an exciting finish. They’d withstood it before, too. On Saturday, the Bears drew from that experience and held off a late Mills surge to win the class 5A state championship 59-54 at the Summit Arena in Hot Springs.

Sylvan Hills controlled 75 percent of the game. Mills dominated the last 25 percent. By that time, the Bears had built a huge lead that the Comets couldn’t overcome. Mills cut a 21-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter to just six with 50 seconds left, then forced a turnover to take possession with 30 seconds to go. The Comets forced two more turnovers after that, but missed both of their field-goal attempts and one of two free throws as the Bears held on for the victory.

“It was a little taxing, I’ll be honest with you,” Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis said of Mills’ fourth-quarter run. “But you have to be ready for those runs like that. You have to be ready to be able to step up when the pressure mounts. So I thought our guys were able to stay at it. I just tried to keep our guys focused on dominating the whole game. And boy did it help us early building a big lead like that.”

The players apparently weren’t as worried as their coach. The Bears had beaten Mills twice this season, each time by six points. When the Comets began forcing turnovers and making baskets late, the Bears didn’t feel the stress.

“I don’t think so because we’re a resilient team,” Sylvan Hills guard and championship game Most Valuable Player Archie Goodwin said. “We just had to stay calm because we knew they didn’t have enough time to come all the way back. We just needed a couple of key shots. We got those and fortunately we were able to win.”

Both teams missed a lot of opportunities at the free-throw line. Sylvan Hills could have put the game out of reach early on if it had made more than 18 of its 32 free-throw attempts.

The Bears hit just six of 14 attempts in the fourth quarter and made just one field goal. That bucket was an important and exciting one.

A scramble for a loose ball ended with the ball in Goodwin’s hands out on the left wing and no one guarding him.

Goodwin drove to the basket where Mills’ Jerale Lovelace tried to set up to take a charge, but was too far underneath the basket to get the call. Goodwin had an open lane to the rim, where he skied for a one-handed slam that made it 55-42 with 3:17 left to play.

Goodwin said it was the most memorable shot of his two championship games.

“Just because last year I didn’t even get a dunk,” Goodwin said. “To end our last year with a bang like that was nice.”

Sylvan Hills started hot from outside. Even when shots weren’t on target they went in. The Bears hit three-straight three pointers in the first two minutes, including one that banked in from about 25 feet that made it 9-1.

“We try to take what the defense gives you,” Davis said. “I have full confidence in these guys shooting the basketball. We want to shoot open shots. I tell them all the time I need makers and not shooters, but if it’s our shot, I want them to take it

Mills charged back to make it 14-10 by the end of the first quarter, but the Comets were stuck on 10 points per quarter until the fourth.

Mills’ senior guard Shaquan Fletcher hit a layup just 11 seconds into the second quarter to make it 14-12, but the Comets didn’t get another basket until the 3:15 mark. A key reason for that was the defensive play of Bears’ point guard Dion Patton. Patton smothered Mills’ leading scorer Braylon Spicer all game long. Spicer averaged 30 points per game against the Bears in the two regular-season meetings, including 37 in the most recent one. Patton, who usually guards the opposing point guard, switched to the two-guard Spicer for this game.

“It was really important,” Davis said of shutting down Spicer, who finished with six points. Everything was running through him.”

Pointing to Patton, Davis continued. “This guy behind me, man, give him credit. He took (Spicer) out of the ball game.”

Mills coach Raymond Cooper also gave Patton credit.

“What they did was put their best defender on (Spicer). What we didn’t do well was execute as a team like we should have to create shots for him.”

Sylvan Hills lead was 33-20 at halftime, and they extended it to 21 points by the start of the fourth by outscoring Mills 18-10 in the third.

Though the run fell short, Cooper was not surprised by the 24-8 charge his team made in the final period.

“The one thing I know is that they’re going to play from buzzer to buzzer” Cooper said. “We’re not the biggest or most physically imposing team around. At the end of the game, we had one guy six feet tall on the floor. Those are the guys that brought it back, because their hearts are seven feet tall.”

The game was extremely physical and the pace was slowed by the 50 fouls committed, 26 by Sylvan Hills and 24 by Mills.

Goodwin led all scorers with 27 points and had seven rebounds. Shyheim Barron led Mills with 17 points while Markale Lovelace added 16. Both players had nine rebounds to lead their team. Devin Pearson led the Bears with nine boards. Larry Ziegler scored nine points and grabbed eight rebounds.

Davis took one final moment to acknowledge the seven seniors that formed the nucleus of the team for the last two seasons.

“I think credit is to our seniors,” Davis said. “Lets give credit where credit is due. 28-0 last two years in conference, 17 game winning streaks two different seasons. They were focused, and I thought they were ready.”