No. 2 Russellville shoots past Eufaula 79-69, advances to play Butler in Class 5A finals
BIRMINGHAM – No. 2 Russellville shot its way into its first championship game appearance since 2002 with a 79-69 victory over No. 9 Eufaula in Wednesday's Class 5A semifinal at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.
The Golden Tigers (32-0) will play No. 4 Butler today at 3 p.m. Russellville is seeking its first title since 1982, while the Rebels won back-to-back championships in 2004 and 2005. Butler beat Parker 73-50 in the other semifinal game Wednesday.
"We did a good job of shooting," Russellville coach Michael Smith said. "We got our confidence back and Cory (Trapp) found his shooting stroke."
Senior point guard Siran Winston said it was Smith's game plan to work the ball inside first.
"Coach said if we could give the ball to our inside players, then that would open up our 3-point shots," said Winston, who finished with 19 points, nine assists and a team-high eight rebounds. "Jay (Bates) was able to score in the paint and our 3-point shots started falling."
Bates scored 14 of his game-high 24 points in the first half on a combination of turnaround jumpers, drives and putbacks and had his best game of the season from the line, where he was 8-of-9, including 4-of-4 in the fourth quarter.
Russellville controlled the first half and led 41-34 at halftime by shooting 60.9 percent from the field and hitting 4-of-6 from behind the arc, but Eufaula, which hadn't lost to a 5A team this season, made a run in the third quarter.
After Lazabian Jackson scored off a Russellville turnover to cut the lead to 41-36, Trapp drove to the basket and was apparently fouled. Trapp earned a quick technical for his reaction to the non-call by the official, and Herb Brooks, who led Eufaula with 21 points and nine rebounds, sank both free throws.
Jordan Hammond sank a trey from the left corner and Bates converted a putback, but Calvin Thomas scored six points during a 7-2 run by the Tigers and Jackson made a steal and layup with 2:56 remaining in the third to give Eufaula a 49-48 lead, its first of the game.
Cornell Garrett hit a layup to extend the Tigers' lead to 51-48, but Nate Dunstan drew Ed Anderson's second and third fouls, including a technical with 2:15 left. Dunstan converted one free throw and Trapp hit both technicals, and Terence Smith found Winston for a 3-pointer at the top of the key as Russellville reeled off a 12-2 run to close the quarter and lead 60-53 heading into the final period.
"Eufaula was in the lead and then we had a chance to tie the game with those free throws," said Michael Smith. "That was probably the turning point of the game because made them and then got the ball back and scored."
In the fourth quarter Eufaula trimmed the lead to 67-63 with 3:47 remaining on a short jumper by Ed Anderson but Russellville responded with an 8-2 run to put the game out of reach as Bates and Smith each made a pair of free throws, Trapp, who had 13 points on 3-of-6 shooting from long distance, nailed a 3-pointer from the right corner and Hammond hit 1-of-2 from the line.
"We're going to have to play even better to beat Butler," said Michael Smith. "First, we need to take care of the the basketball, and we need to do a better job of rebounding.
"Butler is not as big as Eufaula but they do a good job of penetrating the lane, and they're a team that uses their quickness on defense and has a good half-court set on offense."
Smith said the team that stays the most consistent will have the best opportunity to win today.
"We don't want to change what we've been doing all season long because the team that plays the most consistent and continues to do what they've been doing during the year willl be the one that has the best chance to win," he said.
"Being loose is the best approach for us, and we probably played as good as we have all season offensively (Wednesday). Hopefully that continues – we just need to do rebound and block out better."