Posted Date: 01/11/2018
JONESBORO — The Brookland Bearcats were determined to not let Nettleton point guard Kevin Fulton get going, so the Raiders had to rely on another option.
Jay Campbell scored 22 points, leading the Raiders to the Division II boys championship of the 71st annual Northeast Arkansas Invitational tournament with a 47-39 victory over Brookland on Wednesday at First National Bank Arena.
"Jay Campbell, that's what he is going to do," Nettleton coach Mark McCord said. "That's when he'll step up, and that's why he's continuing to get better. He drove it at the basket. He probably took one bad shot tonight. There was one shot I didn't like."
McCord was relieved his Raiders (9-3) redeemed themselves after losing last year's NEA final to Blytheville, and he was also glad to be through with the gauntlet of Craighead County's other large schools in the field. With Valley View looming on Tuesday, Nettleton topped the Blazers, Westside and Brookland by an average of only 7.7 points per contest, avenging a 10-point loss at Brookland on Nov. 21.
"Another street fight," McCord said. "Against a Bobby Gross-coached team, it's going to be a street fight because he's going to make it that way. They threw everything at us but the kitchen sink. All kinds of defenses. They changed them on us and did a good job with it. Gimmicks. They went triangle-and-two, box-and-one, trap, zone trap, straight-up man. They really junked it up, and our guys held it together for the most part."
The Bearcats (11-4) followed a similar script to their semifinal upset of Blytheville, setting the tone in the opening quarter for an 11-10 lead at its conclusion. Campbell missed his first five shots, but once he got going, he finished the first half with 14 points, leading the Raiders to a 27-19 halftime advantage.
Neither side could get much traction in a 6-6 third. Braden Smith hit successive baskets to cut it to 31-25, but after Nettleton held the ball for nearly the final 2:41 of the period, Kortez Hamilton nailed an elbow jumper with 4 seconds left to make it 33-25.
Brookland was undeterred by Nettleton's late basket, starting the fourth on a 9-3 run to cut it to 36-34 with 5:05 left.
"I think the game went similar to what it was last night," Brookland coach Bobby Gross said. "We had a couple of good looks to tie it twice in a couple of possessions. We had a couple of good looks, and they just didn't go in. They capitalized, but I'll tell you what, I'm proud of my guys' fight and how they handled that situation."
The Bearcats had four different opportunities to tie or take the lead after pulling within two, but they missed the front end of a one-and-one and were turned away by three blocked shots. The final block was when Will Joyner tracked down Tyler Harrell at the backboard when it appeared he had an open layup off a turnover.
"The big play of the game, and it was just like a dunk because the momentum changed, was when Will came up from behind and swatted the shot," McCord said. "It was an unbelievable block. They fought back to get back in it, and he just makes a play on the ball. There are not many people in high school that can make that play."
Joyner and Jarquavious Cain, who had the big blocks, responded with a pair of and-one baskets, although they missed the free throw at the end of each, and Hamilton got a layup to push the lead to 42-34. Dalon Ford pulled Brookland within 42-36 with a layup with 1:54 left, but Smith was whistled for a technical foul for knocking the ball out of Nettleton's hands on the inbound.
"In a game like this, you hate that it's even called," Gross said. "It was a technical if he slapped the ball out of his hands. Kids are fighting so hard, and there's a lot intensity right now between our two schools with how hard we've played each other. We play each other non-conference every year, alternating home and away. There's a lot of intensity there, and it's becoming a little rivalry."
The Raiders missed both free throws, failing to put the game away because they made just 2 of 11 free throws in the final period.
"That's the worst we've shot them all year," said McCord, whose Raiders were 9 of 19 from the free-throw line. "We're lucky to pull that one out after going 2 of 11 in the fourth. We made enough plays down the stretch, and our defense didn't let us down."
Campbell bailed them out with a driving bucket on the ensuing possession, making it 44-36 with 1:42 left. Harrell made a three with 37 seconds left to make it 44-39, but Campbell got one of his final four free-throw attempts to fall, and Joyner put an exclamation mark on it with a dunk with 11 seconds left.
Aiding Campbell was Hamilton with 10 points and Joyner with eight. The Raiders limited Brookland to just 14 of 37 (37.8 percent) from the field while they were 18 of 34 (52.9 percent), hitting 9 of 15 (60 percent) in the second half.
Ford's defense drew praise from Gross, limiting Fulton, averaging just less than 20 points per game on the season, to only three points. Ford had 11 on the offensive end.
By Sean Saunders, Sun Staff Writer