HOT SPRINGS -- Calling it a night and day difference can't accurately describe how different Bigelow Coach Craig Neumeier felt Saturday afternoon than he did after his last trip to a state championship basketball game.
Neumeier's Bigelow boys team secured the first state championship in school history, defeating Marshall 59-44 at Bank OZK Arena.
Bigelow (31-2) closed the game with a 19-1 run, holding Marshall (27-9) to a single free throw over the final 6 minutes, 30 seconds.
"That's probably not the way we drew it up, to get down in the fourth quarter and come back and win. But that's not the first time this group's done this." Neumeier said.
In the first half, Bennett Wilson carried the Panthers' offense. He scored 14 of their 28 points to take a 28-24 lead into the halftime break.
Wilson was named the game's Most Valuable Player, finishing with 17 points. He found offensive success doing something Marshall couldn't -- hitting from long distance.
Wilson scored 15 of his 17 points from behind the three-point arc, making 5-of-11 attempts.
"Every single look was just completely wide-open," Wilson said. "And so from the screening to play-calling, it was right place, right time, and every look was just picture-perfect."
Marshall didn't find life outside the arc as fruitful. The Bobcats made 4-of-24 attempts. Alessandro Govi and Jesse Ragland each hit two three-pointers for the team.
"I just thought we didn't get the looks we wanted," Marshall guard Payton DePriest said. "... We just couldn't zone in, and it just wasn't my night from there. We knew coming in, we would probably struggle, but we couldn't get anything at the rim. It's just tough when you can't get shots to fall."
Wilson was the lone Panther to hit a shot outside the arc, but he wasn't alone in double figures. Wade Nutt and Javon Orr each had 14 points, and Martell Macon added 10 off the bench.
Marshall had no match for Orr's size inside. Standing 6-7, Orr totaled 14 rebounds with 10 coming in the second half to give Bigelow a 42-32 advantage on the boards. His eight offensive rebounds came from a simple game plan of winning the rebounding battle.
"There was nothing out there, I was just working my butt off getting rebounds," Orr said. "I had to box. [Marshall] had somebody [6-6 forward Logan Ward] the same height as me. In most teams, there aren't many people like that."
Marshall outscored Bigelow 14-10 in the third quarter, led by back-to-back three-pointers from Ragland to take its first lead of the second half at 39-37. But that momentum didn't last long.
"That really kind of gave us some life and some momentum. Like Payton said, we couldn't quite get them to fall at the three-point line. Usually, we shoot a little bit better than that."
"We just let go of it once we had the energy going," Ragland said. "We just stalled the ball and should have attacked more. [We] shouldn't have been relaxed, should have kept going for it."
Saturday brought an end to Neumeier's 23rd season at the helm of the Panthers. He was on the bench when Bigelow fell 65-35 to Buffalo Island Central in the 2005 Class 2A state championship.
"It's been a long time but sometimes, losing like that is a feeling that stays with you," Neumeier said. "And that one stayed with me because I was wanting to go to the bus or anywhere else [afterward]. We played a good team, but hopefully I learned a little bit from that, and hopefully it's not another 18 years till we go back."
Gallery: Class 2A Boys State Basketball Championship