NASHVILLE – The Baylor Red Raiders came oh-so-close to winning their first state championship in basketball here at Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena, but unfortunately, close doesn’t count for much in the game of hoops.
Facing the Brentwood Academy Eagles for the third time this season, the other guys won the rubber match by a 50-44 final, securing their fourth straight Division II-AA state title in the process.
We all know that basketball is a team sport, but there’s an exception to this rule and his name is Darius Garland. He single-handedly pulled his team through on Saturday night as he earned tournament MVP honors for the second-straight year with 35 points in 29 minutes of play.
Baylor coach Austin Clark couldn’t say enough good things about his basketball team that battled one of the state’s best teams from the opening tip to the final horn.
“Darius Garland is a great player, there’s no question about it. We did our best to control him and we limited the rest of their team to just 15 points. Things just didn’t quite go our way tonight,” the veteran coach suggested.
“We may be the runner-up, but we have a champion’s heart as we just played one heckuva game. I can’t say enough about how hard we played and how proud I am. Oh, we wanted to win more than you will ever know, but we didn’t.
“I can’t pick out a single play that cost us as we were in the game the whole way. We played really well and this is a team who made history for our program. There’s a lot to be said about that,” he added.
Brentwood Academy coach Hubie Brown was drained emotionally once the final horn sounded, but he was also smiling from ear to ear as he shared his thoughts along the sideline while players and fans celebrated on the court.
“There was nothing easy about that game as Baylor never gives up. I thought we played really well tonight, but we had a few lapses and those guys always make you pay in a situation like that,” Smith said, having won his fourth straight state title in just five years on the job.
“Darius is a special player. He got a key steal and made a three-point play to give us a little breathing room, but he plays at a different level in games like this.
“We are the only team other than Ensworth and another Brentwood Academy team to win four in a row and that’s a really nice feeling. I think that helped us to be more focused. Normally, we’re a great team in the last two minutes because we have the best guard in the country who has the ball in his hand.
“We graduated six last year and we’ll lose eight more this year. We will be young year, but we also have some pretty good kids coming back. We’ll see if we can keep this thing going,” he smiled.
Freshman Randy Brady scored on a putback to give Baylor its first lead at 2-0 with 6:20 left in the first.
Beyuan Hendricks nailed a 3 with 3:06 showing to give the Red Raiders their biggest lead of the half at 9-4, but the Eagles scored the next eight points and had a 12-9 lead when the first stanza ended.
Garland, who had 15 points in the first half, hit a 3 from the wing and was fouled. His four-point play gave the Eagles a 22-19 lead before Niko Simpkins made it a one-point game at the break after hitting a reverse layup.
Garland canned a pair of 3s to start the second half for BA’s biggest lead of 28-21 two minutes into the third quarter and he canned three straight free throws on the final play of the quarter to give the Eagles a 33-31 lead with eight minutes remaining.
Brady scored on a nice inside move with 3:30 to play to knot the score at 40-40, but that’s when Garland took over and turned a close game into an Eagle victory.
He scored seven straight points in the next two minutes for a 47-40 lead and the Red Raiders never got any closer than six the rest of the way.
While Garland had 35 points to lead the winning Eagles, Camron Johnson was next with nine.
Brady finished with a dozen points to lead Baylor while Tre Jackson followed with 10 before fouling out late. Simpkins had eight and Hendricks seven for the Red Raiders.
The Eagles finish their season at 25-5 while Baylor finishes at 19-7.
Ironically, both teams last loss before the Saturday finals was to each other and both came on the other team’s floor.
The Brentwood Academy girls made it a double with a 62-47 victory over Ensworth in their championship game.
BRENTWOOD ACADEMY 12 10 11 17 -- 50
BAYLOR 9 12 10 13 -- 44
BRENTWOOD ACADEMY (50) – Lyons, Garland 35, Archie, Johnson 9, Curtis, Davis, Werts, Reynolds, Fitzgerald 5, Clifton.
BAYLOR (44) – Urey 5, Simpkins 8, Jackson 10, Hendricks 7, Brady 12, Pruitt, Ristanovic, Pippenger 2.
3-POINT GOALS: Brentwood Academy 5-21 (Garland 5); Baylor 2-13 (Jackson, Hendricks).
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)