HOT SPRINGS — East Arkansas superpower Earle and the Bulldogs crafty Coach Billy Murray reign supreme among Class 2A boys again.
MVP Darius Cisero scored 20 points, including 10 in a row for the Bulldogs during a key stretch in the third quarter, as Earle posted a 69-52 victory over Marked Tree in Thursday’s championship game at the Bank of the Ozarks Arena.
Earle (29-7) won its third consecutive state championship and 10th overall. For Murray, it was his fifth title at Earle and his sixth overall.
Marked Tree (31-2) won its first 27 games this season — including two victories over the Bulldogs — but the Indians lost to Earle in the title game for the second year in a row.
Marked Tree led by as many as eight points in the first quarter. The Indians hit 11 of 20 shots from the floor, including a 6 of 12 effort from three-point range, but they cooled off tremendously in the second half, making only 7 of 28 shots.
“I always tell my players that if you can win the third quarter, you’ll win the ballgame,” Murray said. “It’s important to carry the momentum into the fourth quarter and hold it from there.”
Thanks to Cisero, the Bulldogs did just that. Marked Tree was holding a 35-33 lead with 4:15 left in the third quarter when Cisero hit a 25-footer, starting a string of 10 consecutive points for the 6-2 junior. By the end of the third quarter, Earle was holding a 45-36 advantage.
Marked Tree never got closer.Gallery: Boys 2A Basketball Championship
Travonta Doolittle, a 6-3 senior, scored 8 of his 20 points in the final 3:53 of the first half to help Earle rally to tie the game at 30-30 at halftime. Sophomore Leeandrew Milow, a 6-5 center, scored 15 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter.
“I can’t say enough about [Milow],” Murray said. “I told him. ‘If you give me anything, we’ll win this ballgame.’ I knew Doolittle was going to give me what he gave me, but what Leeandrew gave me was just gravy on the plate. He gave me more than I ever dreamed.”
Marked Tree scored the final 11 points of the first quarter to take a 19-11 lead. Indians Coach Barbara Wilburn said her team lost the game in the second quarter.
“We had an eight-point lead and we didn’t build on that,” Wilburn said. “In the third quarter, they just punched us in the mouth and we never recovered. “
Colby Malone, Marked Tree’s 5-11 senior guard, scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including 3 three-pointers. He finished with a team-high 19 points. Junior Trayvius Brown added 14 points. Markel Perry-Washington collected a game-high 15 rebounds for the Indians.
Earle was 13 of 25 from the floor in the first half and finished 25 of 49 overall. The Bulldogs collected 7 of their 12 steals in the second half.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times, especially when you’re on this stage,” Wilburn said.
“We knew what they were going to do, and they knew what we were going to do. They just did it better.”
At a glance
CLASS 2A BOYS
STATE TOURNAMENT SCORES
Earle 69, Marked Tree 52
Earle 59, Parkers Chapel 45 Marked Tree 68, Clarendon 65
Parkers Chapel 66, England 54 Earle 67, Jacksonville Lighthouse 66 Clarendon 56, White Co. Central 28 Marked Tree 69, Bearden 42
England 71, East Poinsett Co. 64 Jacksonville Lighthouse 74, Camden Harmony Grove 40 Clarendon 62, Mountain Pine 48 Marked Tree 53, Quitman 42
The junior forward was 7-of-11 shooting, including 3 of 4 on three-pointers, and hit 3 of 4 from the foul line for Earle, which beat Marked Tree for the first time this season after dropping the previous two meetings. Cisero also added 9 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 assist in 32 minutes. He scored 10 of Earle’s 15 third-quarter points to help the Bulldogs open up a nine-point cushion after being tied 30-30 at the half.
There was only one foul called during the first half of the Earle-Marked Tree game, and it did not occur until there was 1:09 left in the first half. But by the game’s end, there were a combined 23 fouls called and 31 free throws attempted. … Attendance for the 2A boys game was 2,432. … Earle scored 23 points off of turnovers; Marked Tree managed 5. … Four of Earle’s starters – Darius Cisero, Kevon Smith, Leeandrew Milow and Travonta Doolittle — played all 32 minutes.
Earle’s Jaylen Thomas (11) tries to shoot around Marked Tree’s Paul Coleman.