STATE-MENT: Led by McWilliams, Cephus, Academy sinks unbeaten East Chambers 68-58 to earn state trip
Updated: Mar 8
NET PROCEEDS: Academy head coach James Holt celebrates with his players after cutting down the net following the Bumblebees' 68-58 win over previously unbeaten Winnie East Chambers in the Class 3A Region III championship game Saturday afternoon in Madisonville. Jaylin McWilliams poured in 26 points and fellow senior Jerry Cephus scored 19 as No. 16-ranked Academy (22-7) recorded its 15th straight win, eliminated the No. 11 Buccaneers (27-1) and advanced to a state semifinal against No. 5 San Antonio Cole (25-5) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Hays High School in Buda. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
MADISONVILLE – After Academy's boys basketball team needed two overtime periods to defeat seventh-ranked New Waverly 70-69 in an exhausting Class 3A Region III semifinal Friday night, the burning question was this: How much physical and mental energy would the Bumblebees be able to summon for Saturday afternoon's quick-turnaround regional final against unbeaten Winnie East Chambers?
The resounding answer: Plenty.
The well-earned reward: A regional championship and Academy's first trip to the state semifinals since it won the 2002 state title.
Jaylin McWilliams pumped in a game-best 26 points and fellow senior Jerry Cephus scored 19 for the fast-starting No. 16 Bees, who showed their resiliency by handling East Chambers' full-court defensive pressure and leading nearly the entire way – often by double-digit margins – en route to a 68-58 victory over the No. 11 Buccaneers in front of a raucous crowd at Madisonville High School's Mustang Gym.
For Cephus, capping his senior season with a trip to state is exactly what he and his longtime Academy teammates have been working toward.
“We put in work. We've put in work for a very long time, and this is what we've been working for,” Cephus said. “We're not done yet, but we just put in a lot of work and we trust our guys and go out and do what we're meant to do. Coach (James) Holt lets us play basketball, so that's what we do.”
McWilliams said he and his teammates were able to get enough rest and recovery after their physically and emotionally draining win Friday night, highlighted by his buzzer-beating layup off a long pass from Kollin Mraz to force the classic duel into overtime.
“It was just watch film, eat and then get rest for tomorrow,” he said. “I think everybody was asleep around 12 or 12:20, and Coach Holt let us come downstairs at 10 (a.m. Saturday)."
PLENTY OF HORSEPOWER: Academy senior wing Jaylin McWilliams scored 17 of his game-leading 26 points in the first half to help drive the 16th-ranked Bumblebees to a 68-58 win over No. 11 Winnie East Chambers in the Class 3A Region III title game Saturday afternoon at Mustang Gym in Madisonville. McWilliams scored a total of 42 points in two days as Academy (22-7) snapped New Waverly's 26-game winning streak (70-69 in double overtime) and dealt East Chambers (27-1) its first defeat all season. The Bees are 18-1 since McWilliams, last season's District 19-3A MVP, made his season debut on Dec. 18. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Advancing to its fourth state semifinal in program history, Academy (22-7) will challenge Region IV champion and fifth-ranked San Antonio Cole (25-5) – which beat No. 25 Santa Rosa 67-48 on Saturday – in a state semifinal at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Hays High School in Buda. The 3A state championship game is at 2 p.m. next Friday at San Antonio's Alamodome.
Tipping off the regional final at 1 p.m., roughly 17 hours after playing 40 intense minutes to snap New Waverly's 26-game winning streak, Academy was more geared up than gassed against a dominant East Chambers team that came in with a gaudy 27-0 record.
For the Bees of fifth-year head coach Holt, stamina and strength never seemed to be in short supply with a state semifinal berth at stake.
“The guys played a ton last night, and they played a ton today,” Holt said about Academy's starting five of wing McWilliams, senior guards Cephus and Mraz, senior power forward Tanner Rambeau and junior point guard Darion Franklin. “But at the end of the day, they're gamers, they're really competitive and they're going to do whatever they can. I'll never doubt their heart and their will. They'll give you whatever they've got regardless of what's left in the tank.”
Considering that Academy had a 7-7 record in early January, the view from the top of the ladder was especially sweet for Holt and his resurgent Bees as they excitedly cut down the net as regional champions following their 15th consecutive win.
“It's awesome, because you realize how much time and effort these guys have put in their whole lives to get better,” Holt said after pulling the net out of the rim, waving it above his head and playfully tossing it on top of Cephus' head. “The skill work, the AAU tournaments, all that leads to a moment like that, and it's just awesome to see. These guys have done so much. They deserve as much praise as we can give them.”
Franklin scored 11 points and Rambeau added nine for Academy, which seized control by outscoring East Chambers (27-1) 18-8 in the first quarter thanks largely to the Buccaneers' eight turnovers. The battled-tested teams played each other to a 50-50 standoff in the final three periods, but Academy never allowed its lead get smaller than six points, and that was with only 32.6 seconds remaining.
On Friday, Cephus exploded 12 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter to help Academy push New Waverly into overtime after trailing by 12 points midway through the third period. One day later, the streaky, smooth-shooting senior produced 11 of his 19 points after halftime after McWilliams had scored 17 of his 26 points during the first two quarters.
Cephus also played his typical strong defense against lightning-quick East Chambers senior Ernest Ceaser, helping limit the 5-foot-6 all-state guard to 21 points, well below his average of 30 from the 13 Bucs games Holt said he had watched. And 10 of Ceaser's points came in the game's final 3:20, after Academy had expanded its lead to 59-42.
“We said that if we shut down No. 1 (Ceaser) we'd win today, and that's what we did. He didn't have the big plays like he usually does, and they couldn't score as much because they were looking for other guys who aren't used to scoring,” said Cephus, who on Friday played the primary role in keeping New Waverly guard Sebastine Amaro scoreless through three quarters and limiting him to 10 points, 11 below his average. “(The key was to) stay in front of (Ceaser). We preach a lot of help defense. We had help defense today and that helped us win. He couldn't get up the shots that he usually gets up.”
Said Holt: “I even said before the game, 'Jerry's not going to shut him down.' And after the game, he was like, 'Is anybody going to let Coach Holt know that he's a liar?' He was very proud of his performance. He did a great job, because I think that kid's going to be a four-time all-state player. I think Jerry was awesome, but at the end of the day it's a team game.
"We also talked about, 'It's not him vs. Jerry; it's him vs. our team. If he scores, he didn't score on Jerry; he scored on our whole team. So we have to be ready to help.' And our kids were in great position. When he got the ball, Jerry was on him playing tight defense, but we had guys ready so that whenever he drove we were in the correct position and in the gaps and taking away the paint. He hit some shots, and that's what great players are going to do.”
HANG TIME: Academy senior forward Tanner Rambeau takes a midair shot in the lane after catching an inbound pass from junior point guard Darion Franklin (left) during the first half of the Bumblebees' 68-58 victory over Winnie East Chambers in Saturday's Class 3A Region III final in Madisonville. Also looking on for Academy are senior guards Jerry Cephus (11) and Kollin Mraz. Rambeau scored nine points as 16th-ranked Academy (22-7) extended its winning streak to 15 games and ended the No. 11 Buccaneers' season at 27-1. The Bees' next challenge is a state semifinal against No. 5 San Antonio Cole (25-5) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Hays High School in Buda. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
McWilliams and Rambeau are four-year varsity standouts, and three-year varsity performers Cephus and Mraz also played for Academy's District 19-3A championship squads that were eliminated from the Region III quarterfinals by Crockett in 2019 and 2020.
To not only get past that frustrating third-round obstacle but also to advance to the state semifinals in their final opportunity is something that gives the Bees a major feeling of achievement.
“It's good. Most of us have been playing together since we were in fifth grade. So all the late practices, all the tournaments we had, all the fights that we had, it all led up to this moment right here,” said McWilliams, the reigning 19-3A MVP who totaled 42 points in the Bees' two regional tournament games. “And let's keep going.”
A discipline-related suspension forced McWilliams, a skilled wide receiver and cornerback, to miss the final two games of the football season – including Academy's bi-district playoff loss to eventual state runner-up Hallettsville – and then the first 10 games of the Bees' basketball season. Without the athletic 6-3 standout, they struggled to a 4-6 record against a slew of high-quality opponents, many from larger classifications.
Academy is 18-1 since McWilliams returned to live action Dec. 18 against Hearne, and the only loss was 77-74 in overtime against state-ranked 4A regional quarterfinalist Waco La Vega way back on Jan. 5.
“It feels really good, because when I stopped playing football, there was a lot going on,” McWilliams said. “And then I sat out the start of the season in basketball, and the season wasn't going as planned as we had talked about it. But I think once everybody got into motion and I came back and filled in my spot and we started playing as a team, we got a roll going.”
Holt said the Bees have benefited greatly from having their leading scorer back in the mix for a 12-0 romp through 19-3A and now a run of five postseason victories in 15 days.
“He's just so good on both ends of the floor,” Holt said of McWilliams. “He's a great defensive player. He gets deflections and gets his hand on the ball. And then on offense, he's a great finisher and shot the ball great today. He's just an all-around player, and we've got a lot of those guys.”
Holt said he's particularly proud of McWilliams for his mature approach to overcoming the personal adversity he experienced last fall.
“We have high standards at our school, and sometimes we don't (uphold) those things. But we're also not going to give up on a kid. I love the kid. He's a great kid. He says 'yes sir' and 'no sir' every time,” Holt said. “We're here to love on kids and build relationships, and when you give up on a kid, I don't think that helps. I think it was important that when he came back, it showed how important he was to our team and it showed how important the game is to him.”
TIME TO CELEBRATE: Academy players watch head coach James Holt cut down the net after the Bumblebees beat previously undefeated Winnie East Chambers 68-58 in Saturday's Class 3A Region III championship game at Madisonville's Mustang Gym. Academy (22-7) advanced to its first state semifinal since the Bees won the 2A state championship in 2002. (Video by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
East Chambers' swarming press defense created problems for No. 14 Lorena in the Buccaneers' 53-35 win in Friday's late regional semifinal. Academy did commit six turnovers during the first quarter (and 18 overall) against East Chambers, but those miscues didn't prevent the energetic Bees from controlling the early action.
After McWilliams and Ceaser traded opening-minute layups, Cephus gave Academy the lead for good by making an NBA-range 3-pointer from the top left before McWilliams' left-wing drive for a basket made it 7-2. Another McWilliams layin, Rambeau's inside bucket off Franklin's pass and one 3-pointer apiece from Cephus and McWilliams keyed an 11-2 run to give the Bees an 18-8 advantage after the first quarter.
Franklin's left-corner 3 off a Mraz pass and McWilliams' 3 off a Cephus dish helped Academy push it to 25-13, then the Bees ripped off a 7-0 run – McWilliams sank a 3 and turned a steal into a layup before Cephus made a left-handed scoop layup on the fast break – to make it 34-20 with 1:39 left until halftime. East Chambers answered with five straight points, but McWilliams fired an entry pass to Franklin for a point-blank basket and Academy carried a 36-25 lead into the halftime break.
“I feel like once we broke their press, it was a free game. So whatever was open, that's what we tried to take,” McWilliams said. “We had a lot of team plays that kept everybody going.”
With East Chambers still too close for comfort, Academy remained on the attack after intermission. A 3 by McWilliams, his pass that set up a Cephus layup, Rambeau's tough basket inside, Mraz's putback score off an offensive rebound and finally McWilliams' lefty layup fueled a 14-5 spurt that put the Bees in full control at 50-30 with 2 minutes left in the third quarter.
Holt commended Mraz's tireless rebounding work in both regional tournament games, saying the senior's boards created extra possessions and scoring opportunities for the Bees.
Of course, a cornered Buc is a dangerous Buc, and coach Todd Sutherland's East Chambers crew wasn't quite finished. Ceaser's driving hoop and a bank shot by senior guard Keyrin Green (10 points) ignited a 10-0 run, which also included Dylan Winzer's step-back 3 and finally Green's left-wing 3 that whipped the East Chambers fans into a frenzy and sliced Academy's advantage to 50-40 entering the fourth.
“That's what we talked about before the game. East Chambers is a team that tries to wear you down,” Holt said. “It may not be the first or second quarter, but usually in the third or fourth quarter there's a moment when there's going to be a 10-0 run, a 12-0 run. And we've got to take that, absorb it and just move on to the next play. Our kids are good at moving on to the next play and focusing on what what we've got to do this possession instead of what happened the last few possessions.”
East Chambers athletic senior guard Brayden Guillory scored 12 of his 13 points before halftime but fouled out 32 seconds into the fourth quarter when Franklin drew a charging call.
The final period followed a similar script as Academy used balanced scoring – Cephus' NBA-range 3, Rambeau's close-range bucket, McWilliams' on-the-run banker and a Cephus scoop layup – to build its lead back up to 59-42 with 3:42 remaining.
Seemingly dead in the proverbial water, the Bucs' battered ship didn't go down without a fight. Ceaser and Kadron Morris sank consecutive 3-pointers for a 59-48 game, but Cephus and Franklin responded with back-to-back layups off steals to make it 63-48 with 1:42 left.
East Chambers made one final push with a 10-1 run that included multiple Academy turnovers and 3s by Green and Ceaser to trim the Bees' lead to 64-58 with 32.6 seconds remaining.
However, Franklin secured Academy's impressive win by converting four free throws for a 10-point cushion before Holt pulled his starters in the waning seconds, allowing them to receive celebratory hugs from teammates and coaches and a standing ovation from the Bees' loud crowd, which then stayed to watch Academy's jubilant group cut down the net.
“I'm very proud of it,” Cephus said about his team earning its trip to the state semifinals. “It's like a brotherhood. I feel like we're all brothers. We're super close, and us playing football together just made us even closer. It's awesome, but we're not done yet.”
BOYS HIGH SCHOOL
CLASS 3A REGION III FINAL
No. 16 Academy 68,
No. 11 Winnie East Chambers 58
E. Chambers 8 17 15 18 – 58
Academy 18 18 14 18 – 68
East Chambers (27-1) – Ernest Ceaser 21, Brayden Guillory 13, Keyrin Green 10, Kadron Morris 7, Jacoby Perrault 4, Dylan Winzer 3.
Academy (22-7) – Jaylin McWilliams 26, Jerry Cephus 19, Darion Franklin 11, Tanner Rambeau 9, Kollin Mraz 2, Trae Rambeau 1.
3-point field goals – East Chambers 8 (Ceaser 3, Green 2, Guillory 1, Morris 1, Winzer 1); Academy 8 (McWilliams 4, Cephus 3, Franklin 1).
Free throws – East Chambers 12-17; Academy 8-15.
Notes – Academy extends its winning streak to 15 games, wins the Class 3A Region III championship and advances to a state semifinal vs. fifth-ranked San Antonio Cole (25-5) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Hays High School in Buda; Academy reaches the state semifinals for the first time since it won the 2002 2A state championship.