Former EPC star Malik Monk showcases his skill in Class 7A title game
Fans began standing in line in the early morning hours outside Hot Springs' Bank of the Ozarks Arena, hoping for a seat to watch Saturday's highly anticipated Class 7A boys' championship matchup between Bentonville and North Little Rock. The 11 a.m. tipoff featured Bentonville's Malik Monk, formerly of Lepanto and the number five rated guard in the nation for the 2016 class. Opposite Monk was North Little Rock star Kevaughn Allen, a University of Florida signee, and his teammate, K.J. Hill, who is headed to The Ohio State University to play football.
As the tipoff drew near, the arena swelled with spectators and most of the major media in the state. By 10:30, officials locked the doors and declared the game a sellout. Those fortunate enough to be in attendance would be part of a record breaking Hot Springs crowd of 6,500. The old record was 6,363 set in 2011 between Alma and Sylvan Hills, which featured former Kentucky star and current NBA player Archie Goodwin.
Electricity was everywhere as the two teams hit the floor for warm-ups. A building buzz could be heard all around the arena as basketball fans from all around the state waited eagerly for the showdown to begin. Rarely do games hyped as much as this one meet such lofty expectations, but this game would not only meet but would exceed everyone's wildest sports dreams.
The first quarter turned out to be one for the ages. Allen got things rolling, bringing oohs and aahs from the crowd with a pair of two-handed slams. The future Gator also knocked down two long three pointers, which brought a broad smile to the face of University of Florida assistant and former head coach of the Razorbacks, John Pelphrey, who was in attendance. Hill backed his teammate with a pair of long range bombs of his own as the Chargers bolted to a 14-3 lead.
Not to be outdone, Monk's Tigers fought back. Benjamin Smith caught fire and buried four three pointers while Monk launched a 30-footer that found nothing but net, helping Bentonville charge back to close the gap to four points. Monk capped off the first period with a Michael Jordan-like one-handed windmill jam that brought down the house and shook the rafters. Sixty five hundred frenzied fans went wild!
Bentonville continued to fight back in the second quarter and eventually took a 39-37 edge at halftime. The Tigers threatened to pull away in the third period, leading by as many as seven points, but the Chargers battled back and trimmed the Bentonville lead to 53-49 entering the final frame.
North Little Rock's superior depth took over in the fourth quarter, as the shorthanded Tigers, playing without two starters, began to tire down the stretch. NLR took the lead for good at the 2:30 mark and closed the game out with a 66-59 victory and their second state title in three years.
Allen garnered Most Valuable Player honors, throwing in a game high 28 points while Hill pumped in 19 more. Monk, triple-teamed most of the game, led Bentonville with 25 points and nine rebounds while the 6'9" Smith helped out with 22 points of his own.
As the Chargers celebrated their state title, Monk left the court, disappointed for the second time in three years. Monk's EPC Warriors lost a heartbreaking overtime game in the 2A State finals in 2013 to Cedar Ridge. With one more year to go, there's no reason to think Monk won't be back for another shot at a state championship in 2016.