Cougars win thriller with Greers Ferry, fall to Fayetteville Christian in state quarterfinals
Spending even just a few minutes in the stands at any one of the Izard County Consolidated Cougars' 30 wins this year would tell you that the Cougars are an exceptionally dangerous team when they get into the open court.
The same could probably be said about the Fayetteville Christian Eagles.
So it was a battle of two teams that love to get up and down the hardwood with lightning quickness in the quarterfinals of the Class 1A State Tournament March 2 at Yellowjacket Arena in Clinton.
And when the last fast break had made its way downcourt on this evening, Fayetteville Christian (29-6) had earned its second straight trip to the Class 1A Final Four with a 77-57 victory over ICC (30-11).
Fitting in a clash between two high-octane teams was the fact that the Eagles racked up 32 of their 77 points via the fast break.
Another big ally of Fayetteville Christian's was the outside shooting of Phillip Smith. Smith racked up a game-high 30 points, including five 3-pointers.
Not exactly bare when it comes to a showdown of sweet-shooting, slashing guards, the Cougars' got a team-high 27-point effort from Joey Stefka.
As a matter of fact, 3-point shooting was squarely in ICC's corner to begin the game.
The Cougars busted three triples in the first nine minutes of play to get off to a good start. Unfortunately for ICC fans, things dried up from beyond the arc after that, as the Cougs went on to connect on just one more trey for the remainder of the game.
The Cougars held a 14-13 advantage after a tight first period of play, but the Eagles used an 11-3 burst in the second period to open some breathing room.
Outscoring ICC 17-9 in the second, Fayetteville Christian took a seven-point lead, 30-23, to intermission.
Kyle McCandlis finished with nine points for the Cougars, with Spencer Caraway, Scott Small and Zac DeSanto logging five points each. Adam Montgomery hit for three, Garrett Smith two, and Steven Walker one for ICC.
Fayetteville Christian topped the Shirley Blue Devils 74-55 in the state semi-final round and will play the state's top-ranked 1A team, the Guy-Perkins T-Birds, for the state championship in Hot Springs.
In opening-round action Feb. 28, the Cougars had to survive a firestorm of 3-pointers in the second period to slip past the Greers Ferry West Side Eagles 53-52.
The Eagles unloaded for seven treys in the last two periods, but what they really needed was an eighth 3-pointer to tie the game.
ICC held a 53-50 lead with 17 ticks left on the clock when the game reached its fantastic climax.
Greers Ferry's Barry Waller tossed up a 3-point attempt that clanged off the rim with five ticks showing, but the ball bounced off Stefka, giving the Eagles the ball under the Greers Ferry goal.
The Eagles inbounded the ball into the corner to an awaiting Jared Bailey.
Bailey, under pressure from the ICC defense, nailed a shot at the buzzer, but had one heel on the 3-point line, making the shot count for two points instead of the three that Greers Ferry needed to send the game to overtime.
The Cougars were on top 24-18 at intermission, but Greers Ferry used a huge run in the third period to keep ICC fans on pins and needles down the stretch.
The Eagles opened the third by knocking down their first 3-pointer of the second half, but the Cougars responded with a 9-zip run.
Small (four points) hit a bucket in the paint to get ICC grooving, followed by a 3-ball from McCandlis (14 points) and baseline bucket by Curtis Clark (eight points).
By the time McCandlis knocked down a pair of free throws at the 5:20 mark, the Cougars had built their biggest lead of the afternoon, 12 points, 33-21.
Instead of taking the air from under the Eagles' wings, this just seemed to get them excited, as Greers Ferry charged back into the game.
The Eagles (21-17) chipped in the next six points of play before Montgomery (three points) hit a jumper for ICC with 3:56 left in the period. That also turned out to be the Cougs' last points of the third.
Greers Ferry ended the period red-hot by jacking back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers to take a 36-35 lead after three, their first lead since the opening bucket of the game. This after the Eagles had trailed by 12 points five minutes earlier.
After ending the third with three straight 3-pointers, the Eagles continued the blitz by beginning the fourth with a trey, giving Greers Ferry a four-point lead.
ICC didn't panic and the Cougars regained the lead early in the fourth.
Stefka (14 points) hit a layup and free throw, while Clark added a putback to give the lead back to ICC, 40-39.
The Eagles, while deadly from behind the arc, had some troubles from the free throw line, missing the front end of two straight one-and-ones that surely would have aided their cause.
ICC moved on top by four points thanks to a pair of low block hoops from Caraway late in the fourth. Caraway posted six of his eight points in the game during crunch time in the fourth period, when the Cougars desperately needed points to fend of the Eagles.
And fend off the Eagles they did, as Greers Ferry came up one point of sending the game into an extra period.
DeSanto tallied two points for ICC.