Warriors claim regional title with third win over Osceola
NEWPORT "One more time."
That's what East Poinsett County coach Kevin Kyzer said to Osceola mentor Frankie Gathen at the traditional post-game handshake following the Warriors' dramatic 61-48 victory over the Seminoles on Tuesday afternoon at Newport in the finals of the Class AAA Region 2 Tournament.
Kyzer was, of course, referring to the fact that the two Northeast Arkansas powerhouses may indeed meet once again this season. If they do, it will be for the ultimate prize -- the Class AAA championship.
EPC standout Marcus Monk was the dominant force for the Warriors before a packed crowd at Greyhound Fieldhouse. He scored 27 points and put an exclamation point on the proceedings with a thunderous dunk as time ran down.
Monk and his fellow Warriors thus avenged an earlier loss to the Seminoles in the recent district title game and moved to a 3-1 mark for the season against the two-time defending Class AAAA state champions (Osceola dropped to Class AAA this year).
With the win, EPC now stands at 29-3 for the season and establishes itself as one of the clear favorites in this week's state tourney at Prescott.
Osceola also has lost just three games this season, all defeats coming at the hands of the Warriors.
EPC now moves into first-round play of the state tournament at 2:30 p.m. Thursday against Clinton. If the Warriors win, they will test either Hamburg or Berryville in a quarterfinal game at 8:30 Saturday.
If they continue to advance, the Warriors then would be in the semifinal game at 8:30 Monday. The state championship game will be the following weekend at Pine Bluff.
The Warriors kept an even keel in Tuesday's win over Osceola, not letting the Seminoles mount any of their patented runs.
"We took care of the ball better tonight and didn't let their pressure get us out of our game," coach Kyzer said. "We were more disciplined and stayed in our offense."
EPC generally was in control of the game and withstood every Seminole effort to turn around the momentum.
The game was tied 12-12 late in the first quarter when Marc Smith canned a three-pointer and, seconds later, Tyrus Reel scored at the buzzer after an Osceola turnover. That gave the Warriors a 17-12 lead after one frame.
EPC stretched the lead to eight points midway through the second period, but the Seminoles battled back to close it to 26-23.
What followed was one of the key periods of the game.
Boo Collins knocked down a couple of free throws for the Warriors to give some breathing room.
Then junior guard P.J. Lacy stole the ball and pulled up for a long-range three-pointer. He then came right back with another steal and a layup to put the Warriors up by 10 and send the large EPC fan contingent into a frenzy.
Osceola did manage to slice the lead back down to 33-27 on a basket and a pair of free throws just before halftime.
The major problem for EPC in the first half was foul trouble as the officials played it "close to the vest" in the early going. Monk picked up his third foul with 2:43 left in the first half and spent most of the remainder of the period on the bench.
That all turned around later as the Warriors had only one foul in the entire second half.
Coach Kyzer said he wasn't too concerned about Monk's foul situation.
"He has been in foul trouble a lot this year and is kind of used to it," he said.
Coach Kyzer let up on the defensive pressure in the second half and didn't press at all in the fourth quarter.
The Warriors dropped back into a zone and challenged the Seminoles to shoot from outside.
That didn't work out at all for Osceola as they went 3-15 from the field in the fourth quarter, only 17-52 for the game.
Keys To Game
Coach Kyzer said a big key to the game was the second-half play of Collins and Zach Patterson.
In one stretch early in the second half, Collins scored five straight points for the Warriors to boost the lead to 40-31.
Osceola came back to cut it to 41-37, but a free throw and a basket by Monk and another basket by Patterson stretched it back to eight.
Two field goals by Terrance Marshall kept Osceola in the game as the Seminoles trailed 45-41 heading into the final eight minutes.
"A big factor in the game was that we just didn't let Osceola have any big runs," the EPC coach said. "They never could score more than about four points in a row and we would come right back. You can't have a two-minute lapse or they will take advantage of it."
Monk set the stage for the big EPC fourth quarter with a dunk to start the final frame.
Following a three-pointer by Charles Chalk, Monk again scored inside. Marshall responded for Osceola with a field goal and the Seminoles were still in it at 49-46.
EPC then put the game out of reach by scoring the next 12 points.
During that run, Collins scored three baskets and Monk had a basket and two free throws.
But the real closer came with 28 seconds left when Monk took the ball on the baseline, dribbled toward the basket and pounded a huge dunk home over an Osceola defender.
That one move alone demonstrated why Monk is considered by many to be the outstanding junior in the state.
And it shows why University of Arkansas coach Stan Heath was present at Monday night's EPC blowout of Mountain View.
Coach Kyzer said after the game that his prized junior will indeed be offered a scholarship to play for the Razorbacks. He said Heath wants to make the offer during a visit by Monk to Fayetteville.
Other schools mentioned as interested in the Warrior leader are Northwestern, Arkansas State, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Stanford, Connecticut and Boston College. The list is sure to grow larger as the 6-6 swingman continues to display his talent to a larger basketball world.
"Both Marcus and P.J. brought their A games tonight," coach Kyzer said after the game. The result was the third tournament win of the year for the Warriors, this one being a big one following earlier Tri-County and NEA crowns.
In addition to 27 by Monk, Collins netted 15, Lacy had 10, Smith added 3 and Patterson, Peel and A.J. Johnson had 2 each.
Marshall had 11 points for Osceola and Jerry Long added 10.
Win Over Mountain View
The Warriors reached the championship game by routing Mountain View, 65-38, on Monday night.
Quarter leads for the Warriors were 17-9, 42-17 and 55-24.
Monk scored 18 points in the first half, added six more in the third quarter and sat out the final frame.
Also scoring for EPC were Reel 12, Lacy 5, Collins 5, Spencer Harston 4, Johnson 4, Patterson 4, Smith 3, Keundre Joplin 2 and Billy McDaniel 2.
Jeremy Davis paced the Yellowjackets with 13 points and Trey Stinnett added 9.
On To State
The Warriors clearly will be one of the favored teams in the upcoming state tournament.
Of course, Osceola also figures as one of the teams to beat, along with Pulaski Academy, Lonoke and Subiaco Academy.
Coach Kyzer said the Warriors definitely must take a "one-game-at-a-time" approach and he thinks his players have the experience and maturity to do just that.
If that indeed happens it is possible for an all-Northeast Arkansas final, again featuring an EPC-Osceola matchup.
That would be fine with the EPC mentor, who is in his first year at the Warrior helm following a three-year stint as an assistant at Lambuth University in Jackson, Tenn.
He would indeed welcome another battle against Gathen, who earned his 500th career victory in the regional semifinals.
"I have a lot of respect for coach Gathen," Kyzer said. "He is a man who puts his kids first. I've enjoyed our games against each other and we have become pretty good friends."