The one thing the Viola Longhorns did not want to do in the finals of the Class 1A Region 2 Tournament Feb. 25 at the Cougars' Den in Brockwell was give the home team an inch of breathing room.
Turns out the Horns gave Izard County a lot more than just an inch of breathing room.
More like a tank of oxygen.
Viola (21-10) went almost a period-and-a-half without a field goal in the second half of the championship contest, giving Izard County (31-6) the space it needed to turn a tight game into a 51-39 victory, giving the Cougars back-to-back regional tournament titles.
Both teams advanced to the Class 1A State Tournament at Pioneer Pavilion in Harrison.
The Longhorns, winners of the 1A-2 North District Tournament kept the pace in its favor for the first two periods of the regional finals against Izard County.
Viola held a 24-22 lead at the half.
Then came the third period when things fell completely to pieces for the Longhorns.
Spencer Caraway, the Regional Tournament MVP, opened the second half with a spinning move in the paint that locked the game at 24-all. Caraway paced Izard County with 14 points, six rebounds, five assists and a blocked shot.
Lucas Rains (six points), an All-Regional selection, hit a free throw to give Viola a 25-24 lead with 5:52 left in the third.
Turns out that would not only be the last time the Longhorns would hold the lead, it was also the last point they would score in the third period.
Scott Small (12 points) started a 9-0 blitz for the Cougars with a nifty low post move. Then Chase Massey (11 points), an All-Tournament team member, drained a trey for the Cougars and fellow All-Regional performer Steven Walker (six points) hit a rolling hook shot from the baseline to keep Izard County rolling.
When the third period ended, Viola had been outscored 11-1 in the stanza and trailed 33-25.
The Cougars kept grinding in the final frame and used a 6-0 burst to increase their lead to 39-25.
Viola's first bucket of the second half came with 4:59 left in the game, courtesy of a triple from All-Regional team member Austin Springfield (nine points).
By that time, the damage was already done and despite a couple more 3-balls in the later part of the fourth from Viola, Izard County just could not be caught and posted a 51-39 win over the Longhorns in the regional finals for the second straight year.
Viola held its ground in the first half, dictating the tempo at which the game would be played for the first two periods.
Kyle McCandlis (eight points), an All-Regional selection, opened the game with a trey for Izard County, but then Viola unleashed its outside firepower to match the Cougars.
Jesse Shrable (six points) busted a 3-pointer for Viola, followed by the first trey of Kasey Humphries' night for the Horns. Humphries led Viola with 14 points and played his way onto the All-Tournament team.
By the time Shrable nailed Viola's fourth triple of the first period, the Longhorns had built a 16-12 advantage.
Viola was up five, 19-14, when Izard County reclaimed the lead.
Caraway racked up four straight points and Massey sank a pair of charity tosses to ease the Cougs in front 20-19.
But Viola finished what it started in the first half with a baseline shot from Rains and 3-ball at the buzzer from Humphries, giving the Longhorns a narrow 24-22 lead at intermission.
However, that lead soon disappeared in the third, as Izard County took advantage of Viola's scoring woes to pull ahead and stay ahead, en route to the regional championship.
Marlin Coggins finished with four points for the Longhorns.
Izard County earned a matchup with Viola in the regional finals for the second year in a row by topping Melbourne 61-44 in the semi-finals Feb. 23. Caraway paced the Cougars with 20 points, while McCandlis added 10 and Massey nine. Walker had seven and Curtis Clark five. Jeremy Burns and Small logged four points each, with Dustin Noblin adding two.
Lee Lewis scored eight points to lead Melbourne, while Lunsford added seven. Cody Cooper and Matt Loggains had five points each, while Dalton Grigg and Kody Caraway hit for three points apiece. Adam Jones, Tanner Hoskinds and Adam Cooper finished with two points each.
The Cougars opened tournament play by crushing Twin Rivers 77-52 Feb. 20.
Izard County jumped in front 35-11 after the first period and then led 54-33 at the half and 67-44 after three. Walker paced Izard County with a game-high 19 points, while McCandlis and Caraway added 13 points apiece. Burns had 12, with Massey and Small scoring six points each. Clark, Gerrick Smith, Noblin, Ethan Porter and Bubba Johnson finished with two points apiece.
Viola stopped Norfork 44-41 in the semi-final round Feb. 23, as Humphries (14 points) hit a pair of big free throws with three seconds left to preserve the Longhorns' win. Springfield logged 13 points for Viola, with Ethan Houghtaling hitting for nine, Lucas Rains six and Shrable two.
The Longhorns advanced out of the tourney's first round with a 48-23 victory over Calico Rock (6-23) Feb. 20. Lucas Rains scored 16 points to lead Viola, with Springfield adding 11, Shrable six, Coggins five and Ethan Houghtaling three. Dylan Holstine, Humphries and Jackson Rains had two points each. Colton Kankey had one point for the Longhorns.
Jordan Green and Andrew Powell had six points apiece for Calico Rock, while Heath Branscum added four and Sam Nave three. Brayden McCurley and Alex Skidmore posted two points each for the Pirates.