The host Bears had an enormous height and size advantage in Saturday's Class 1A state semifinal round. But, Concord had the edge in what matters the most ¬ heart and basketball skill.
Dazzling junior guard Jacob Roark scored a game-high 39 points, collected 10 rebounds and dished out six assists, while power forward Ethan Hebert scored 24 points and pulled down 15 rebounds as the Pirates sailed to an 86-61 victory.
Concord advances to state championship game opposite Bay on Thursday at 5:15 p.m. at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock. The Pirates have a chance to bring a bo basketball state title back to Cleburne County for the first time since 1983, when West Side won a state crown.
“We don't have any size and we don't have any depth but we play hard, we love each other and we play together. We play with a ton of heart,” said Concord Coach Keith Cornett.
“We play a tough non-conference schedule and we have lost some games this year but we feel like that has put us in this position,” added Cornett.
Last year the Pirates entered the state tournament as the top-ranked team but lost to host Nevada County in the first round only a few miles up the road from Bradley, in Magnolia.
“We had a sour taste in our mouth after going down to Magnolia last year and getting beat in the first round. From day one this has been a destiny for us. I wasn't that worried today, I know Bradley is good, but I just felt like we are the best team and we would prove that when we got down here,” said Cornett. “We might have had some better individual performances but I don't think we have played this well for four quarters.”
Concord (38-7) closed the first half with an 8-2 run, building an 11-point halftime lead before blowing the game wide open in the third quarter, bum-rushing the Bears with a suffocating full-court press, which the Pirates applied all game.
Once the dust settled in the third quarter, Concord had outscored Bradley 24-14 to take a commanding 67-46 lead to the final eight minutes of play.
In a back and forth first quarter, Roark poured in nine points, Hebert added five and forward Hanse Bowman contributed a three-pointer from left corner that gave the Pirates an early 3-2 lead.
Tied at 12-all, Roark drained a deep three-pointer from right wing then guard Luke Cornett picked a steal and dished to Roark for a layup as the Pirates suddenly took a 15-12 lead, forcing Bradley to call for timeout with 2:01 remaining in the first quarter.
The Bears, who finished the season with a record of 29-6, came out of the timeout on fire as power forward Dominick Ellis notched two consecutive rebound buckets and forward Broderick Brandon dropped a runner in the lane, giving Bradley an 18-17 lead entering the second quarter.
Page 2 of 3 - Roark drilled a three-pointer up top on Concord's opening possession of the second period, but Brandon responded with an 18-foot jump shot out front.
Bradley claimed its final lead of the game at 24-23 when Ellis completed a strong drive to the basket with a layup. Concord forward Ryan Cornelison responded with a turnaround jumper from right elbow then Hebert swiped a steal under the basket and hit a fall away shot.
The Pirates pushed their lead to 29-24 on a follow shot by Hebert, but Brandon answered with a floater before Hebert pulled down an aggressive offensive rebound and scored. Brandon answered again, this time with a slashing shot in the lane, pulling the Bears within three.
Roark countered with four straight, including a basket inside off a smooth touch pass from Cornelison. After Ellis scored on a putback, Roark ripped a three-pointer from left wing off an assist from Cornelison.
On the Pirates' next possession, Roark popped a three-pointer from left elbow off an assist from Bowman, suddenly extending Concord's lead to 41-30 with under a minute to play in the first half.
Bradley forward Patrick Powell momentarily stopped the Bears' bleeding with a rebound basket, but Hebert scored in the closing seconds off a high-low assist from Cornelison as the Pirates took a 43-32 lead to the locker room.
Bowman opened the second half with a three-pointer from left wing in transition off an assist from Roark, but Ellis attacked the rim for a tip-in before Concord used an 8-1 run to gain even more separation.
Roark ignited the Pirates with a putback then Hebert scored on a follow shot in transition. After Bradley guard Reece Dunlap hit a free throw, Roark drove coast-to-coast and finished with a double clutch layup then Cornelison swiped a steal that led to another driving layup by Roark.
Trailing 54-35, Bradley whittled away at its deficit, eventually pulling within 14 when Brandon canned a three-pointer from right elbow.
But Concord remained relentless as Hebert scored off an inbound play and Roark drove the length of the floor and hit a short pull up jumper. Bradley forward Tyrell Gill responded with a fade away jumper before Cornelison hit an off-balance bank shot from right side off an assist from Cornett.
With time winding down in the third quarter, Hebert completed an old-fashioned three-point play off an assist from Cornelison, boosting the Pirates' lead to 67-46 entering the final eight minutes of play.
Concord opened the fourth quarter with six consecutive as Bowman and Cornelison each hit two free throws, while Roark pushed the ball in transition and used his tremendous strength to power over a Bradley defender for a layup.
Holding a commanding 73-49 lead, Concord placed the mercy-rule into effect, starting when Cornelison cruised through the Bears' full-court pressure and hit a pull up jumper from the foul line.
Page 3 of 3 - Bowman added a three-pointer from left corner then Cornett bounced to Hebert on a fast-break for a layup. Powell sandwiched a pair of buckets for Bradley around two free throws by Roark, leaving Concord with an 82-56 lead with 5:00 left to play.
Cornelison used a ball fake to get free for a bucket from left block then Roark blew past his defender and finished with an amazing hanging scoop shot in heavy traffic as the Pirates took an 86-56 lead and sailed with the clock running continuously for the final four minutes.
Brandon and Dunlap led Bradley with 13 points apiece, Powell followed with 12, Gill had 11 and Ellis finished with 10. Following Roark's game-high 39 points and Hebert's 24 points, Cornelison added 12 points and eight assists for Concord and Bowman finished with 11 points.
“He [Roark] makes my job easy,” said Cornett with a smile. “He has earned it. There is no one in the state of Arkansas that works harder than this kid. I promise you. He is the best I have ever had and I am glad he is just a junior.
“I trust him with whatever he wants to do,” Cornett continued. “He has the green light. He had always had the green light but he has grown and matured. He used to take some ill-advised shots but seldom does he take those anymore.”
The Pirates beat Bay early in the season on a neutral floor at Buffalo Island Central. This time the two clash with a lot more at stake. “We played Bay early in the year but they seem to be playing extremely well right now,” emphasized Cornett.