HOT SPRINGS -- Eric Burnett said he has complete confidence in Javion Releford's ability to shoot the 3-pointer, even when he missed his first three attempts in the Class 6A boys state championship game.
The fourth try was the one that mattered. The senior guard drilled his shot from the left wing and snapped a 39-39 tie with 1 minute, 12 seconds remaining as Fort Smith Northside won its 11th state championship and second in 3 years with a 44-41 victory over Bryant in Bank OZK Arena.
"Javion is our best 3-point shooter," Burnett said. "And over the last three weeks, there's been a couple of times that I wanted to jump on the floor and put hands on him because he's passed up some shots. But he did the same thing in the Conway game last week as they cut it to six and he hits a big 3.
"He was the only one I wanted shooting the 3. I told nobody else to shoot the basketball out there. We were going to shoot layups. Javion knows I have a lot of confidence in him. I don't care how much time is on the clock; he's got the green light."
Friday's game marked the fourth meeting between the two 7A-Central Conference schools, and two of the previous three were decided by five points or less. This one was no exception as Northside (21-11) led 35-27 after three quarters, but the Grizzlies had only a Braylin McKinley bucket for the first 6½ minutes of the fourth quarter.
The dry spell allowed Bryant (24-5) to make its move, and Rodney Lambert's tip-in tied the game at 39-39 with 1:50 remaining. Northside quickly worked the ball around the perimeter, then 6-foot-11 Jaylin Williams fired the ball to a wide-open Releford, who delivered his shot before Camren Hunter could get over and defend it.
"Coach B, he's got a lot of confidence in me," Releford said. "He put me in that position to knock down that shot, so I feel like I was ready to shoot it and knock it down."
Releford would be called on one more time after Bryant cut it to 42-41 on another Lambert putback, this time with 16 seconds left. He was fouled with 8.5 seconds on the clock, and he followed a timeout by hitting both free throws to give Northside a three-point cushion.
Bryant then wanted to go to its best 3-pointer shooter -- Treylon Payne -- but it never materialized. Lambert brought the ball up the court and was forced to shoot, and his shot from the top of the key was off to the left. Williams grabbed the rebound and flung the ball in the air as the buzzer sounded as Northside's players celebrated.
"It really didn't work out," Bryant coach Michael Abrahamson said. "We wanted to use Khalen (Robinson) as a decoy. We knew they weren't going to let him get it. We wanted to roll Treylon over and go to Khalen's side on the left, then get the ball to him for the 3.
"We really didn't go too much to the left and sell that out, and Treylon wasn't there anyway."
Northside never trailed as Williams had six quick points, including a dunk, to give the Grizzlies a 9-0 lead. Bryant responded and evened the game at 13 on an Arlon Jenkins 3-pointer with 4:20 remaining, but Jermualle Norwood started and finished a 12-1 Northside run with 3-pointers, including a long one at the buzzer to give the Grizzlies a 25-14 halftime cushion.
"That gave us some momentum going into the second half," Burnett said. "They had just made a run, and him hitting that shot was big. He's worked his tail off getting himself ready, and I was glad for him to finish his last game like that."
Williams had a double-double to lead Northside, finishing with 20 points and 16 rebounds, and was the only Grizzly player in double-digit scoring. Robinson and Hunter paced Bryant with 11 points apiece.
Sports on 03/09/2019
Print Headline: 6A BOYS FINAL Northside coach's confidence in Releford pays off