Owls’ unbeaten bid ends at 22-1

CHARLESTON — For three quarters, this 3A state boys basketball semifinal was an even match. Except it wasn’t even on the scoreboard.

McGehee, the only remaining undefeated team in 3A, fell behind 22-11 after the first quarter and could not get over the hump as Little Rock’s Episcopal Collegiate took a 67-55 victory Tuesday at Charleston High School. The Owls, who had a game-high 26 points from Kieanis Henry, finished the season 22-1, but even more painfully for them, lost in the final four to the Wildcats (28-3) for the second straight year.

“Honestly, the kids never even talked about it,” Owls coach Jerome Pace said his team’s undefeated start. “Ten years from now, they might talk about it, and it may have meant something even now if we had won the championship.”

Episcopal, which lost to Harding Academy in last year’s finals, will take on Charleston at Summit Arena in Hot Springs on Friday or Saturday.

On Tuesday, the Owls struggled to slow down the Wildcats’ inside game without containing the outside, which led to Episcopal’s key start.

“When you have a big kid inside and two shooters on each corner, … you just got to know what you’re going to stop,” Pace said. “I thought we did well at times in the first quarter.”

Episcopal barely outscored McGehee 12-11 in the second quarter, but each team had 15 points in the third and 18 in the fourth. McGehee never pulled within nine points.

“That (Allie) Freeman kid hit two big threes in the fourth quarter,” Pace said. Freeman, a sophomore, had 13 points.

Kelvin Robinson led the Wildcats with 24 points. Mahlon Martin had 15 and William Pollock added 10.

Tracey Lawson scored nine and Trevon Spratt eight for the Owls.

For a football-rich school that had not made a state basketball playoff in 50 years before 2010, the semifinals remain the deepest the Owls have gone. This is the third time McGehee has bowed out in the final four; the Owls lost to Jonesboro Westside in 4A in 2011.

“You’re always trying to figure out how to get past that point,” said Pace, who coached Star City to a runner-up finish to Atkins in the former Class AA in 1995. “You can’t avoid anybody because everybody’s trying to beat somebody to get to the semifinals.”

Charleston beat Benton Harmony Grove 67-59 in the other semifinal Tuesday. Harmony Grove, a third seed out of Region 2, stunned Region 3 champion Earle 64-61 Monday.