This story was originally written for The Pine Bluff Commercial, though it never saw publication.
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — The Drew Central Pirates fell 69-40 to the Ashdown Panthers Thursday night in the 3A Boys basketball state title game. Trenton Eubanks finished the contest with 15 points for the Pirates, while tournament MVP Lamar Wilkerson notched 12 points, 4 assists and 2 boards for the Panthers.
The Pirates led 12-9 early in the contest but held that lead for only 16 seconds. From that point, they were outscored 57-31.
“It will hurt over the weekend, but Monday we’ll be back in the weight room getting ready for next year. (This loss) doesn’t change what we are going to do,” said head coach C.J. Watson. “We’re going to keep grinding and try to get back here next year. Win or lose, we have to get ready for next year on Monday.”
The Panthers jumped out to an early 9-4 lead thanks to a great shooting display, knocking down four of their first five shots. After that, though, they missed six in a row as Drew Central tied the game at nine apiece thanks to an and-one from Nicky Barnard and a layup from Eubanks.
Eubanks started off the second quarter with a quick layup, drawing a foul in the process and nailing the free throw, giving Drew Central their first lead of the game. It didn’t last long, as Ashdown responded with a quick 7-0 run. John Smith hit a short jumper then Keamon Nutt stole the inbounds pass for an easy layup. On the next possession, Lamar Wilkerson got an easy bucket at the rim to give Ashdown a 16-12 lead just 59 seconds into the second quarter.
The Ashdown run continued from there, as they turned the Pirates over three times in as many possessions, resulting in more points for the Panthers. Eubanks tried to stop the bleeding by notching his 11th point (out of 15 total for the Pirates) of the night at the 4:43 mark, but Ashdown wouldn’t stop. They extended their run to 17-3 before forcing Drew Central to call another timeout.
When it rains, it pours.
Out of the timeout, the Panthers kept their foot on the gas, racking up eight unanswered points. They rode a 27-6 run into the halftime locker room after hitting all eight of their final shots (made 11 of 12 attempts in the half), not including a half-court heave that nearly banked in after the buzzer.
The Panthers shot 65 percent from the field in the first half, 92 percent in the second quarter.
Watson said that the troubles resulted from a change in defensive strategy.
“We were going to let (Nutt) shoot, and he beat us. That was our game plan. I think he had 10 points in the first half. We lost a few guys, they grabbed some rebounds. (Ashdown) played well and they played hard.”
Ashdown could not be stopped to start the second half. They continued their hot streak, knocking down all four of their shots in the first four minutes, extending their run to a monumental 35-11 before Drew Central called a timeout.
The game kept spiraling downward for the Pirates. Ashdown’s streak finally ended at 13-consecutive makes. They shot 70 percent in the third quarter, while the Pirates only managed to score eight points on 38 percent from the floor. Eubanks had 15 of the 26 for the Pirates through three.
The final period saw the Pirates trying to fight back, but it was too-little-too-late. In the end, they were able to trim the lead to 24 at one point but were never truly able to overcome the monster second and third quarters from the Panthers. Drew Central never gave in, despite the adversity they faced. In the end, Ashdown proved they were worthy of the title of best team in the state.