Billies dodge 8-4A bullet
As they knew it would, the bullseye grows bigger with each game. The last two home games in which defending Class 4A state champion Monticello has been involved, the Billies’ opponents have also entered the contest with undefeated 4A, District 8 records.
The No. 1 4A team in Arkansas has prevailed both times, but the games are slowly growing tighter. First it was Dollarway on Jan. 19; the Billies escaped with a 10-point victory. Tuesday night, it was Dumas—and Monticello was able to sneak past the Bobcats 65-57 at Dan Coston Field House.
Sandwiched between those games was an easy 57-30 win at Star City on Friday. Monticello is now 15-1 overall and still perfect in 8-4A. The Billies will put their 7-0 conference record on the line again Friday against DeWitt at home as the second half of league play begins. Three games that night (junior girls and both senior squads) tip off at 5:30 p.m.
“It was pretty sloppy in the second half,” longtime Monticello coach Wayne Sherrer, whose squad had destroyed Dumas 78-54 in the boys’ championship game of the Commercial Bank Southeast Arkansas Holiday Basketball Tournament on Dec. 30, 2015, said of Tuesday night’s contest. “We turned a comfortable game into a lot tighter one than it should have been. We didn’t play defense. We were like Swiss cheese. We made some poor decision-making down the stretch, too. It was a win but it wasn’t a work of art, that’s for sure. We’ll go from there; we’ll try and get better.”
Had it not been for seniors D.J. Franklin and Tyree Nolen, two returning starters from last year’s state title squad, Tuesday night might have been a different story. Despite the Bobcats’ eight-point advantage in the fourth quarter (24-16), each time Dumas would make a run Tuesday night, it was either Franklin or Nolen who would put a halt to it.
Franklin, a 6-foot-4 guard/forward, exploded for a season-best 34 points against the Bobcats—and the Billies needed every one of those points. The 5-8 Nolen, a cat-quick point guard, added 16.
For a team which Sherrer said earlier in the season had a better offense than last year’s 27-1 squad, the 50 points Franklin and Nolen scored between them was a far cry from any of their teammates’ productions. In fact, the scoring dropped down to five points among the other Billies that notched at least one point.
Yet Sherrer seemed more concerned with the other aspects of Monticello’s game after the eight-point victory over Dumas.
“If we ever get to the point where we can stop somebody and do a better job on the glass,” Sherrer noted, “we’ve got a chance to be a pretty good basketball team. Those two areas are what stands between us having a really good basketball team and being just okay. We just haven’t shown the consistency defensively or on the glass. If we can get over that hurdle, we’ll have a chance to get some things done.”
Monticello assumed a 13-8 lead after eight minutes sand expanded that advantage to 17 points (34-17) at intermission as Franklin sent the Billies to the halftime locker rooms with on if his four made three-point shots at the buzzer. Dumas, which entered the game at 15-2 overall and ranked No. 6 by Maxpreps.com in 4A, took the upper hand in the second half, though.
The Bobcats didn’t back down, outscoring Monticello by one point in the third quarter before having their big final period, but it was too little, too late.
At Star City, the Billies didn’t afford the Bulldogs that opportunity. Monticello held its hosts under 10 points in each of the first three quarters while building an insurmountable 46-19 lead. A 15-4 explosion in the game’s first eight minutes pretty much sealed the deal for the defending state champion.
Franklin and junior Saniyass Brown each scored 12 points to lead Monticello in scoring at Star City. Still, only eight players got into the scoring column for Sherrer against the Bulldogs.