SPRINGDALE -- KeVaughn Allen was nervous when he stepped to the free-throw line Monday for two shots with 5.8 seconds left and North Little Rock trailing by a point in the semifinals of the Class 7A boys basketball state tournament.
The senior who is orally committed to Florida had just missed a tying free throw seconds earlier and was faced with one final chance to lift the two-time defending state champions to another title game appearance.
"I was nervous, but at the same time I had to be calm," Allen said. " Went to the line and just had to do my same routine I normally do in practice."
The nerves didn't show up on the surface. Or in his shots.
Allen made both free throws to give North Little Rock the lead, then celebrated in an impromptu mob with his teammates moments after a last-second three-pointer by Fayetteville rimmed out as the Charging Wildcats held on for a 66-65 victory.
North Little Rock (23-5) will face Bentonville with a chance to win its third consecutive state title.
That in itself is an accomplishment in a season that has been filled with off-the-court drama surrounding the school's athletic department following the firing of its football coach, Brad Bolding. North Little Rock also forfeited its boys basketball state championship from last season after the school self-reported a recruiting violation to the Arkansas Activities Association.
"We won it two years ago with a chip on our shoulder and nobody expecting to do it," North Little Rock Coach Johnny Rice said. "Last year's group showed toughness to repeat even with everyone circling you on their calendar. But this year's group, it was even tougher with everything we've had to face.
"To be able to come and fight away from our hometown, I've never been any prouder than the group I have right now."
Allen scored a game-high 33 points and knocked down 7 three-pointers, which included hitting 4 of 5 in the first half during a back-and-forth shooting display with Fayetteville junior Payton Willis.
Willis made 5 of 7 three-pointers in the half and had 19 points by intermission. Allen had 20, helping the Wildcats rally from a seven-point hole to lead 41-40 at the break.
Willis finished with 25 and hit two free throws to give Fayetteville a 63-62 lead with 2:20 left. His shooting and the inside presence of senior C.J. O'Grady and juniors Josh Breathitt and Drake Wymer created trouble for North Little Rock. Wymer scored 15 points and Breathitt 10 as the Bulldogs (22-6) went with a big lineup.
"We were trying to isolate a guard on one of our bigs, which was Josh or C.J. most of the time" Fayetteville Coach Kyle Adams said. "We were able to take advantage of that for a while."
Fayetteville had a few chances to seal the game, but the Bulldogs missed a layup and threw away an inbounds pass with a 65-64 lead in the final minute to give North Little Rock extra chances.
Allen made the most of his chance to redeem himself.
"He was going to get the ball again and make a play, and he did it," Rice said. "He's probably missed two or three free throws ever in a close game, so I was so glad he got another shot at it."
Adrian Moore added 12 points for North Little Rock, while K.J. Hill had 10.
BENTONVILLE 63, VAN BUREN 48
Malik Monk took over the game in the second half and finished with 42 points as Bentonville advanced to its first state championship game appearance with a victory over Van Buren.
The junior outscored the Pointers (22-6) all by himself, 26-23, in the second half as Bentonville (20-7) extended a 26-25 halftime lead with a 16-2 run.
Monk had a bucket and a layup to start the second half, then followed a basket by Rustin Hawkins with seven consecutive points.
That included two free throws after Van Buren Coach Randy Loyd was whistled for a technical foul during the Pointers' final timeout, and Jordan Hemphill's three-pointer gave Bentonville a 42-27 lead with 1:57 left in the third quarter.
"In the first half, I was just rushing things and not taking my time," Monk said. "My teammates set me up in the second half, and I was able to knock down some shots. I was just trying to get into the lane and take it in."
Van Buren opened the fourth quarter with six consecutive from Mitchell Smith and pulled to within 44-34 with 6:26 remaining, but the Pointers couldn't get any closer. Monk closed out his scoring with a dunk, then Ben Smith's dunk gave the Tigers their biggest lead, 61-44, with 1:24 remaining.
"We had a flat third quarter and they didn't," Loyd said. "It was one of those deals when it happened. I've been in this game long enough to know that this level, the semifinals of the state tournament, you can't have a bad quarter because you'll get beat."
Sports on 03/10/2015
Print Headline: Given another chance, NLR's Allen makes it count