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franklin county times

Rebels halt RHS title charge

By Staff
No. 4 Butler edges No. 2 Russellville 66-59; Golden Tigers finish historic season 32-1
Kim West
BIRMINGHAM – As the clock wound down late Friday afternoon during the Class 5A finals at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, there was no storybook ending to a dream season for No. 2 Russellville, a team that steamrolled through the first half of the season and then fought its way through the playoffs while snagging four tournament trophies and a school-record 32 consecutive wins over the past three months.
An experienced and well-balanced Russellville team ran into a youthful and exuberant Butler squad that displayed surprising patience on offense and non-stop pressure on defense.
"Butler is just a good team, and they pressed us all over the court," said Russellville coach Michael Smith. "They did a good job attacking us on defense."
The Golden Tigers (32-1) thrived this season by adapting to other teams' styles and being able to win even when their long-distance attack sputtered. But the No. 4 Rebels (28-5), who captured their third state championship in the past five years with a 69-59 victory, made sure the first half was played at a plodding pace and then capitalized on its full-court defensive pressure in the second half to score several transition baskets.
Neither team shot well from long distance but Butler outscored Russellville 36-14 in the paint through the first three quarters. The Rebels' Ryan Ervin managed to find high-percentage shots repeatedly in the lane in the second and third quarters for 16 of his 19 points and tournament MVP Ralph Eason, who also had 19 points, hit 9-of-10 free throws in the final period to hold off a late charge by Russellville.
Butler converted only one of six 3-pointers but shot 44.7 from 2-point range, while Russellville fired 5-of-25 from behind the arc and only 37.5 percent from the field.
"I thought the keys to the game were to not let Russellville settle in on offense and make their point guard (Siran Winston) work as hard as possible," said Butler coach Jack Doss, who has won seven state championships in the past 27 years. "We wanted to wear them down mentally and make them work to the get ball down the court."
Winston, who finished with seven points, three assists and two steals, handled the pressure well and only turned the ball over three times against Butler's half-court trap and full-court defense, but he only played 24 minutes because of foul trouble and picked up his fifth foul with 3:30 left in the fourth quarter.
"This team has a great group of guys, and I love them like my brothers," Winston said. "I hope they make it back here and win it all next year."
Russellville held a brief lead in the second quarter when Trapp, who shot 1-of-12 from long distance for five points, and Hammond dropped in back-to-back 3-pointers with less than three minutes until halftime but Butler scored seven unanswered points to lead 27-23 at halftime.
The Rebels led by as many as 14 points in the third period as Russellville didn't score until Jermaine Bates, who finished with 15 points and five rebounds, knocked down two free throws at the 5:33 mark. Bates scored seven of the Golden Tigers' 10 points in the quarter as Butler took a 44-34 lead into the final period.
Russellville trimmed the lead to 46-42 on a jumper by Terence Smith, who had a game-high 20 points, with 4:40 left in the game but Butler, despite making only one field goal in the fourth, held off the Golden Tigers' comeback by making 18-of-28 free throws.
Bates found Nate Dunstan, who had five points and nine rebounds off the bench, for a short shot in the lane to cut the lead to 54-48 with 1:35 remaining but Butler scored four straight points to push the lead into double digits and the game out of reach with just over a minute left.
"I'm proud of my team – this is one of the best group of young men I've been around, and they have represented Russellville very well," said Michael Smith.
"They played hard today and our seniors have been great leaders and examples for our younger guys."