Displaying a champion's heart, Knox Bearden hurdled a lineup of Division 1 basketball signees Monday night and won the 36th annual Arby's Classic, coming from behind to stun nationally-ranked Carmel Christian, 61-57.
The Bulldogs won it to the delight of a large home-state following at Viking Hall, wiping out the memory of last season's buzzer-beater loss in the semifinals.
"This is why we came back here, to win this thing," insisted 6-foot senior Ques Glover, the high-flying motor of the Bulldogs and the tournament MVP.
Make no mistake, Bearden (12-3) snatched this game away from the Cougars, who led most of the night until the Bulldogs assumed their ultimate advantage at 57-56 with 1:12 left to play on a 15-foot Trent Stephney floater in the lane.
"They fought very hard and seemed to make all the hustle plays that win games," said gracious losing coach Joe Badgett, whose Matthews, N.C. team lost its first game in 21 outings. "They seemed to get all the loose balls. You could just see that it was a different energy level for them down the stretch."
Bearden, down six at halftime, trailed 50-40 early in the fourth quarter, before it finally started getting some shots to drop.
The Bulldogs converted only 36.6 percent (26 of 71) from the floor, but they were 10 of 22 in the fourth quarter and gave Carmel Christian a dose of its own medicine by forcing eight Cougar turnovers in the game's last 6 1/2 minutes.
Carmel Christian, outrebounded 40-30, committed 15 turnovers to Bearden's nine.
"You've got to think that it (making shots) is going to turn at some point, and that's what we kept telling them," said third-year Bearden coach Jeremy Parrott. "You just have to grind it out sometimes."
It took a total group effort to beat Carmel Christian’s loaded squad, and that's what Bearden produced, from its guards to its big man to contributions off the bench.
The Bulldogs outscored the Cougars 21-9 over the final eight minutes, with an aggressive Stephney netting eight points and powerful Marcus Brown tossing in a half-dozen. But Glover and Kordell Kah had big hoops as well, as did 6-foot-10 Tennessee commit Drew Pember off the bench in his first action in over two weeks due to a stress fracture of an ankle.
The fiery Glover scored 14 points for Parrott.
"We've got bunch of good guards and a good bench and a real big dog inside in Marcus Brown, who always plays hard in there, and I do as well," said Trent, a 6-1 senior guard who led the Bulldogs with 17 points on 8 of 20 shooting. "We've been down 10 and almost 20 points before but this team fights back through our press and we just go at it hard as we can."
Carmel Christian, up 40-27 with 5:40 left in the third quarter, may have been able to put away the Bulldogs before the final stanza had it not been for Brown.
A 6-6, 220-pound senior pivot who is a warrior in the lane, Brown scored 16 points and cleared 12 rebounds in an extremely physical game.
"We were a little bit undersized and we had to fight and be physical," said Brown, an all-tournament pick along with Glover and Stephney. "We had to make our tempo in the end and play our game. We had to trust each other."
Brown also came up with four steals.
Carmel Christian placed three players on the 18-man all-tournament team, including Donovan Gregory, DeAngelo Epps and Jake Boggs.
Gregory led the Cougars with 18 points and had three of Carmel's six dunks in the game. Marten Maide scored 11 for the Cougars and Myles Pierre added 10.
The Cougars were outscored 6-1 in the game's final two minutes as they turned it over four times.