HOT SPRINGS -- One block led to Magnolia's first state championship in 22 years.
Freshman guard Derrian Ford blocked Mills senior forward Kevin Cross' layup attempt before the buzzer to preserve the Panthers' 78-76 overtime victory Saturday in the Class 4A boys state championship game at Bank OZK Arena.
Ford led the Panthers with 28 points, but it was his defensive play that will be remembered among Panthers fans.
"I knew it was either do it or die trying," Ford said. "It worked out how I wanted it to. I thank God for that."Gallery: 4A Boys Basketball State Championship
Mills Coach Raymond Cooper didn't have an issue with how the final possession unfolded.
"It was a good block," Cooper said. "The guy made a good play on the ball. For a freshman, he's really, really tough."
Magnolia (24-5) won its first state title since 1997 and its eighth overall.
"It's been an unbelievable ride," Panthers Coach Dyun Long said. "A dream come true. I owe it all to these young men."
Magnolia red dotted a majority of the 6,064 fans at Bank OZK Arena. Long noted the support Panthers fans have given his team throughout the postseason, which included the Class 4A South Regional in Mena and the Class 4A state tournament at their home Panther Arena.
"The proof was in the crowd tonight," Long said. "I'm not sure there's anyone in Magnolia tonight."
Ford's floater with 20 seconds left in regulation tied the game at 70-70. Mills had an opportunity to win the game in regulation, but Cross' layup attempt did not fall and Magnolia junior guard Braelyn Beasley grabbed the rebound to send the game to overtime.
Freshman guard Colby Garland, who had 21 points for Magnolia, injured his left ankle with 50.8 seconds left in regulation. He returned in overtime for the Panthers, hitting a three-pointer to put his team on top 73-70 with 3:18 left to play. With 2:49 remaining in overtime, Garland drew a charge on Mills senior guard Branton McCrary.
Despite his injury, Garland was determined to help the Panthers down the stretch.
"It was aching," Garland said. "But my adrenaline got me going."
Mills senior guard Orion Virden hit a three-pointer with 1:56 left to play in overtime to tie the game at 76-76.
Magnolia took a 78-76 lead with six seconds remaining when Beasley got the offensive rebound off Ford's missed layup and scored on a tip-in.
Beasley finished with a game-high 15 rebounds as Magnolia outrebounded Mills 39-30, to the displeasure of Cooper.
"They outquicked us to the ball," Cooper said. "For whatever reason, we figured our size was going to be enough. They used quickness to get to the ball."
Mills (28-5) saw its 18-game winning streak snapped. The Comets had not lost since Dec. 23 when it fell to North Little Rock. The championship game loss was Mills' second consecutive, as the Comets lost to Little Rock Parkview in the 2018 Class 5A state final.
Cross led the Comets with 24 points and nine rebounds. Virden scored 22 points, including four three-pointers. McCrary had 20 points.
Magnolia used a 11-1 run in the final 3:59 of the second quarter to take a 34-28 halftime lead. The Panthers extended their lead to 46-37 midway through the third quarter on Ford's three-pointer.
At the end of the third quarter, Magnolia senior guard Markeveon Strickland hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer from the right wing for a 56-47 advantage. Strickland finished with 15 points for the Panthers.
When asked about what his hopes were for the Panthers entering the season, Long had a feeling that the 2018-2019 season was going to be a good one with the addition of the freshmen Long and Garland.
"I thought we were going to have a special group from the get-go," Long said. "They've responded well. I just got on the train with them and rode it along with them."
The freshman guard played nothing like one in guiding Magnolia to the state championship. He made 10 of 16 shots from the field and hit 8 of 12 free throws to cap a 28-point effort. Ford also had 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks to lead the Panthers to victory.
Magnolia owned seven state titles but none since 1997 before holding on Saturday. … The last time the teams met, Mills ran away for a 70-39 victory en route to winning the Class 5A state championship in 2017. … The Comets had won 18 games in a row and hadn’t lost since a 57-45 loss to North Little Rock on Dec. 23. … Three of the Panthers’ losses came to Class 1A runner-up Nevada (twice) and Class 3A champ Ashdown. Magnolia also dropped a pair of games to Monticello. … Mills lost last year to Little Rock Parkview in the Class 5A final.
At a glance
CLASS 4A BOYS
STATE TOURNAMENT SCORES
Magnolia 78, Mills 76, OT
Miss 66, Little Rock McClellan 62
Magnolia 66, Jonesboro Westside 39
Mills 49, Dardanelle 29
Little Rock McClellan 58, Monticello 54
Jonesboro Westside 62, Pottsville 60
Magnolia 63, Blytheville 61
Dardanelle 41, Camden Fairview 39
Little Rock McClellan 78, Ozark 68
Jonesboro Westside 72, Star City 66
Magnolia 64, Morrilton 56
NOTE Mills, Monticello, Pottsville and Blytheville received first-round byes.
Freshman guard Derrian Ford had 28 points — hitting 10 of 16 shots from the field — 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks for Magnolia and was named the MVP.
Branton McCrary (1) goes up for a shot as Magnolia’s Braelyn Beasley defends. McCrary had 20 points. Beasley finished with seven points and 15 rebounds.
Magnolia’s Derrian Ford (20) blocks the potential game-tying shot by Kevin Cross of Mills in the final seconds of overtime in the Panthers’ 78-76 victory in the Class 4A boys state championship game Saturday at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs.
Sports on 03/10/2019
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