Russellville triple-double trips Marion
By Chuck Livingston Sports Editor
RUSSELLVILLE — Shunda Johnson can still see the time on the clock. Her Marion Lady Patriots had three great opportunities to tie Russellville, the No. 1 seed from the 6A-Central, as well as the 2016 Class 6A state tournament hosts, but fell just short here yesterday in a 47-46 state quarterfinal loss at Cyclone Arena. With 15.2 seconds remaining, and Marion trailing 45-43, Lady Patriot senior point guard Kennedi Boykins missed the front-end of a one-and-one. However, Boykins’ teammate Ebony Day secured the offensive rebound and just missed a lay-up. The Day miss was rebounded by Marion senior Tei Boston, who also just missed a lay-up. Marion’s last good opportunity to tie the game was ended when Russellville’s Shameka Ealy came up with the rebound, drew a foul and made both free throws to give her team a four-point lead with 7.7 seconds on the clock. That was the time referenced by Johnson after the game. “Seven-point-seven seconds. How did those shots pop out?” asked the fourth-year Marion head coach rhetorically. “I’m so proud of my girls, with some of the obstacles that we overcame this season. We did a great job working our way back into the game today, because we probably wouldn’t have always done that in the past.” One of the reasons that Russellville was so tough to beat was the play of Ealy. Ealy, who’s also a good volleyball player, came up with a triple-double against Marion, adding 12 rebounds and 10 blocks. “She was a beast tonight for us,” said Russellville head coach Sherry White. “The girls knew, ‘Hey, we have to get it into Ealy,’ but Marion did a good job on her, because she didn’t get quite as many touches as I wanted her to.” Ealy started her big night early in the first quarter, scoring 13 points, pulling down three rebounds and blocking four shots. That allowed the Lady Cyclones to take leads of 7-2 and 15-5 in the first quarter, before hitting the second stanza ahead 21-9. That’s when Johnson made her move, going to the box-and-one defense to try and slow Ealy. The box-and-one is a hybrid defensive look that takes elements of man-to-man defense, as well as zone defense and is used to try and limit a dangerous offensive player. In Marion’s case, it was successful for a spell. Ealy didn’t score in the second quarter, which left the door open for the Lady Pats to get within 29-21 at halftime. “Once we boxed her, we got the momentum back on our side,” said Johnson. Marion hit the floor in the second half with a 7-2 run that got them within 31-28 before going to the fourth quarter behind 35-31. Ealy scored all six of Russellville’s points in the third. Following an Ealy jumper with 7:30 left in regulation that gave Russellville a 37-31 lead, Jakyya Clay would score on a stickback and Marie Hunter would come up with a steal at midcourt and score on a floater to get the Lady Pats within two at 37-35. That brought the contingent of Marion fans that made the trip to Russellville to life with chants of “defense” on nearly all of the remaining Lady Cyclone possessions. Despite that, Russellville appeared to put the game away with an 8-3 that gave the hosts a 45-38 lead and just 1:49 left on the clock. However, Day would score on a lay-up and a Boykins steal lead to another Day paint bucket, this one while drawing a foul and when the senior post-woman converted the old-fashioned three-point play, Marion was down just 45-43. Marion was forced to foul, but Russellville’s Abbie Looper missed a pair of free throws to leave the door open for the Lady Pats, while setting up the wild finish to the game. “It just wasn’t our year, but I thank the girls for the way that they fought for us,” Johnson said. It was the second time in Johnson’s four years that her team has finished its season in the quarterfinal round. The other time was her first season in 2012-2013. In addition to Ealy’s 27 points, Russellville got nine points from Emily Posey and four points from Alyssa Owens. Ealy scored 14 of Russellville’s 18 second-half points. Marion got nine points apiece from Day and Boykins, as well as seven from Boston. Marion finishes its season 9-19. Russellville advances to the Class 6A semifinals where they will play Little Rock Parkview on Saturday at 12 p.m.