TAYLORVILLE – Eisenhower pulled off its second straight halfcourt buzzer-beater.
First it was Stefon Jarrett in the regular-season finale against Sacred Heart-Griffin and then it was Stephon Bobbitt in a more crucial showdown against crosstown rival MacArthur in the Class 3A Taylorville Regional semifinal on Wednesday.
Bobbitt chased down a loose ball that was saved by Jarrett at the halfcourt line, turned around and banked in a prayer at the buzzer for a crushing 50-40 lead at halftime.
The Panthers didn't let that momentum go to waste and thumped MacArthur 91-66.
“I thought they were going to steal it,” Bobbitt said of his buzzer-beater. “When I saw Jarrett tip it, I knew I had to shoot it as soon as I touched it.
“When it left my hands, it felt good. I'm like it had to go in.”
Eisenhower (22-7) will run up against another familiar Central State Eight foe on Friday for the regional title — Springfield Southeast. The Spartans previously thrashed Eisenhower 68-43 in last year's Lincoln Regional championship.
“It's weird,” Eisenhower coach Rodney Walker said of Bobbitt's shot. “That's two nights with halfcourt, off-the-glass shots. That was awesome.
“Celebrate now, but we've got work to do.”
MacArthur (17-12) became unhinged after the break.
The Panthers outscored MacArthur 23-10 in the third quarter for a large 73-50 cushion.
It resembled nothing like the previous two meetings this season, which Eisenhower won both by a combined five points.
“We went into the locker room and we talked about getting loose balls and stuff,” MacArthur junior guard Armon Brummett said. “But in the third quarter, it's been our letdown quarter all season. We couldn't connect anymore after that.
“It's tough. It's a fast-paced game and it's a rivalry game. Everybody wants to shine, but having control and composure is what our coach preaches all of the time. We stuck to that in the first half, but in the second half we had more turnovers and it got away from us.”
MacArthur committed eight of its 12 turnovers in the second half, but Eisenhower also carved up the Generals' defense in the halfcourt.
Eisenhower shot 37-of-63 (58.7 percent) from the floor, including 7-of-13 (53.8 percent) from 3-point range.
“We had several quarterbacks out there in the halfcourt set,” Walker said. “Some guys passed up 3-pointers they normally let go, but they shot the 3s they were wide open on and knocked them down — quality shots.”
Eisenhower junior guard/forward Yansyn Taylor was particularly effective from beyond the arc with three treys and had a team-high 20 points. Jarrett had 19 points.
“I got going kind of early in the game,” Taylor said. “People were penetrating and they had to help, so I was wide open in the corner.”
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Runnin' and gunnin'
Eisenhower and MacArthur started out in a full sprint to start the game — as expected.
Jarrett provided the first jolt running up the floor for a 22-17 lead by the end of the first quarter. Taylor later took over with 10 points in the second quarter.
MacArthur never backed down until the Panthers finished the first half on a 7-0 spurt, capped by Bobbitt's desperate 3.
Bobbitt finished with 11 points.
“It gave us a big momentum swing,” Bobbitt said. “We were up by 10 and we knew we just had to stay calm and play basketball.
“Everybody just kept their heads. Usually when we play MacArthur, everybody's like back and forth and back and forth. Everybody has a big head and wants to show off. Everybody just kept their head in this game and we came out on top.”
Eisenhower's starting lineup was outstanding, but the bench also stepped in with pivotal minutes.
The Panthers never gave up the lead after jumping ahead 5-4 in the first quarter and scored 24 points off the bench, led by forward KJ Taliferro with eight points.
“We played hard all four quarters tonight," Taylor said. "The second unit came off the bench and helped and gave us a little break. So when we came back in, we didn't have to go real, real hard. We played hard and when they came in, they gave us good buckets."
Thaxton's last game
The Brummetts, Armon and Amir, usually steal most of the attention for MacArthur.
For the most part, they didn't disappoint on Wednesday.
Amir posted a team-high 21 points while twin brother Armon had 14 points.
But senior guard Randy Thaxton had recently emerged as a strong shooter and turned in one last solid game with 17 points.
It will be a crucial void to fill next year.
“That's what we talked about in the locker room,” Armon said of coming back next year. “We didn't want to bring it up this soon, but we've got to get in the gym as much as we can and play hard and continue to work hard.”
“When you got the Brummett twins, you can't ease up. You can never ease up going up against MacArthur.” – Taylor