That Monarch Magic, which had carried the Mater Dei High School basketball team to two victories in the King Cotton Tournament, finally wore off Saturday night.
The Monarchs missed two shots in the final 12 seconds and lost to Flint Hill Prep of Oakton, Va., 48-46, in the tournament championship game in front of an estimated 4,500 in the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
The Falcons, ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today, had the ball and the lead but nearly lost both in the final moments. Flint Hill guard Reggie Chambers' pass to Ron Davenport bounced off Davenport's foot and out of bounds with 34 seconds remaining.
The ninth-ranked Monarchs took over and worked the ball into center LeRon Ellis, who was triple-teamed on the right base line. Ellis noticed a wide open John Boyle on the left side and got him the ball, but Boyle missed a six-foot bank shot with 12 seconds left.
Ellis tipped the rebound to Kevin Rembert, who had won Mater Dei's first two games with last-second baskets. But Rembert, with the ball at the top of the key, apparently didn't want to play hero again.
He passed to Ellis, whose fall-away bank shot from 10 feet hit the glass and rolled off the front of the rim with two seconds left. Flint Hill controlled the rebound and the clock ran out.
"I thought the magic was still there," said Ellis, who scored a game-high 19 points. "We just couldn't find a way to bring it out. That last shot looked good. I was thinking overtime. I guess that's just the way it goes sometimes."
The Monarchs (12-1) built a 10-point lead in the first quarter and were ahead for most of the game before Flint Hill (10-0) rallied behind All-American forward Dennis Scott, sophomore forward Arron Bain and junior guard Ronny Thompson.
Scott and Bain, who each finished with 15 points, combined for 10 of the Falcons' 14 points in the third quarter to bring Flint Hill to within two, 36-34, at the start of the fourth.
The Falcons also got a huge break when Ellis, the Monarchs' 6-foot 11-inch defensive enforcer, picked up his fourth foul with 3:04 to play in the third quarter.
Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight left Ellis in, but he wasn't as effective. Bain made three baskets from inside and Davenport scored twice from underneath as Ellis was forced to play conservative defense.
Thompson, son of Georgetown Coach John Thompson, hadn't taken a shot, but he finally scored when he made a jumper with 4:20 left to give the Falcons their first lead, 40-39. He added another basket with 3:08 remaining to put Flint Hill in front, 44-43.
Ellis made a free throw to tie it (44-44), Scott made a jumper to give the Falcons the lead, and Rembert answered with a jumper with 1:40 left to make it 46-46.
Ellis then appeared to come up with the defensive play of the game when he blocked Bain's shot and Boyle grabbed the loose ball. But Scott tipped the ball away from Boyle, Chambers recovered and fed Davenport, who made a layup to give Flint Hill the lead with 1:09 to go.
Erik Quigley was called for an offensive foul on Mater Dei's next possession, and the Monarchs failed to score on their last.
"We were a different team when LeRon got his fourth foul," McKnight said. "He couldn't play like he normally does. They got a couple baskets inside because he couldn't assert himself. He was worried about fouling out."
The loss was only McKnight's seventh in five years as Monarch coach. Mater Dei is 128-7 in that span, with four of its defeats coming in overtime.
"The only thing nice about this is that it's not the last game of the season," McKnight said. "It's good for us to play this kind of competition. Hopefully in March, it will pay off. It can only make us better."
King Cotton Notes
Flint Hill's Dennis Scott, who has narrowed his college choices to six schools--Georgia Tech, Georgetown, North Carolina, Duke, Maryland and Syracuse--was named the tournament's most valuable player for the second straight year. . . . Mater Dei's LeRon Ellis was named to the all-tournament team. . . . The Monarchs suffered their first tournament loss since 1982, when they were beaten by Long Beach Poly in the second round of the San Dimas Tournament of Champions. Mater Dei had won 13 straight tournaments entering the King Cotton. . . . Monarch Coach Gary McKnight received an invitation Saturday to play in next year's Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina from Dec. 27-30. The tournament field includes perennial national power DeMatha High of Hyattesville, Md. Mater Dei also has been invited to play in the Seagull Classic in Atlantic City, N.J., (Dec. 26-30) and the Thoroughbred Classic in Lexington, Ky., on Dec. 20. "We'll go to one of them," McKnight said. . . . Ellis, who scored 65 points in three tournament games, will play in two national high school all-star games in March--the McDonald's All-Star Classic in Louisville, Ky., and the Dapper Dan All-Star game in Philadelphia.