ANDERSON — With just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter Monday night, and Anderson clinging to a two-point lead, Indians coach Joe Nadaline called a timeout.
He calmed his players down and asked them simply to play their game. Be aggressive. Take the ball to the basket. And make things happen.
Junior guard FreSan Reese responded with back-to-back 3-pointers from the same spot on the floor, and senior Kenya Wilkerson hit a trifecta of his own at the buzzer to cap an 11-2 run. The Indians never looked back and coasted to a 72-54 victory against Lapel, winning their second straight Madison County tournament championship.
"That was a spontaneous thing," Reese said of his two critical 3-pointers. "I read the defense and got to my spot, and my point guard found me."
Nadaline went into the game believing his backcourt would need to play well. Both Wilkerson and Reese were members of last year's championship team, and their experience proved invaluable.
The pair combined for 35 points and turned the ball over just twice while playing all 32 minutes.
"That was 32 minutes of championship game basketball," Nadaline said. "They played really, really smart and really, really good basketball. And that's what you expect out of your veterans."
Wilkerson made 7 of 9 attempts from the field and scored a game-high 23 points. Reese added 12 points, and both players made 3 of 4 tries from 3-point range.
Senior Grant Bennett, whose game has blossomed in the past two weeks, added 16 points, and sophomore Thomas Wells finished with 10.
"It feels real good," Wilkerson said. "Like I said, people were really doubting us. It was good to get over the hump and win county again. And it was a group effort."
Nadaline was just as pleased with his bench.
Freshman Djuan Peel scored all seven of his points in the fourth quarter, and the Indians also got good minutes from Zac Owens, Aaron Karr and Greg Dixon among others.
"It was absolutely a team effort," Nadaline said. "Our bench was really good. They were really into the game even when they weren't in the game, and they gave us a great lift."
Lapel made the Tribe earn it.
The Bulldogs (6-4) led 15-12 after the first quarter and 28-22 midway through the second. Then Anderson turned up the pressure.
The Indians forced 11 of their 19 turnovers in the first half, and Wilkerson capped a 7-0 run with a 3-pointer to put Anderson ahead 29-28 with 1:44 remaining. The Tribe finished the quarter on a 12-2 run and led 34-30 at intermission.
Lapel stayed in the game with a tremendous 6-for-10 performance from 3-point range. Mitchell Richardson led the way with 15 points, making 2-of-3 from beyond the arc, and Kameron Herrington added 14 points, shooting 4-of-6 on 3-point tries.
Bobby Steele added 10 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs pulled within 40-38 with 2:04 left in the third quarter, but Nadaline called his timeout and his team made the game-deciding run.
Anderson roared to the title with three straight victories by double digits and left no doubt about who deserved to be called county champions.
"It's a wonderful thing for this team," Nadaline said. "Nobody said anything about us (coming in), and I'm not sure most people thought we'd win our first game. To win three straight by double figures says something about this team. Nobody can say we backed into this one."