HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Ashdown shot a blistering 91.7 percent from the field in the second quarter Thursday night at the Hot Springs Convention Center. The result had the Panthers outscoring Drew Central 27-9 those eight minutes, and on their way to the school’s first-ever state championship in boys basketball.
The Panthers’ 69-40 victory was perhaps most appreciated by head coach James Smith, who was banished from the arena after an ejection in the semifinals at Osceola. Smith had the opportunity to watch the 3A title game on television, but couldn’t make himself do it.
“I didn’t watch the game,” Smith repeated several times. “I had people tell me the score at halftime (Ashdown led 36-18), and the end of the third quarter (Ashdown led 54-26). When I heard the score after three quarters I was thinking we have really played well. I knew going into the game we’d have a good chance if we played well. We didn’t play well against Drew Central at the regional tournament and lost by one point without No. 12 (Lamar Wilkerson, Thursday’s MVP).
“I knew with Wilkerson in the mix they would have to play exceptionally well to beat us. All we talked about in our preparation for the game was guarding somebody, and obviously we guarded well. Wilkerson shut down their good shooter (Nicky Barnard). That was something we didn’t have last time.”
Ashdown converted 30 of 54 field goals
Ashdown (28-2) shot nearly 60 percent for the entire game, including a 14 of 15 performance at the charity stripe. Four players contributed double-digit scoring efforts. Guard Keamon Nutt pretty much stole the spotlight with a game-high 18 points and 4 steals. All-Staters Kaiden Hunter and Wilkerson scored 12 points each for the new champions.
Post John Smith poured in 15 points, with a team-high 5 rebounds. The Panthers’ incredible shooting performance spelled few rebounds for both teams. The Pirates’ Travarus Shead had 10 points and a game-high 9 rebounds. Trenton Eubanks led 3A’s second-best team with 15 points.
“This is the most talented team I’ve had in a long time,” said Smith, who won a state crown at Marked Tree in 1988. “I could tell in practice Thursday morning by looking at the boys how bad they wanted this. And they got it!”
Drew Central (28-7) led briefly in the second quarter after rallying from a 9-4 deficit. After falling behind 12-9, the Panthers outscored the Pirates 17-3, and they were never challenged again.