It's been a long time coming, but the Greenwood Bulldogs finally got the monkey off their backs, breaking a long winless streak with a 67-63 double overtime conference victory last Saturday over the Clarksville Panthers. Sandwiched around the much-needed win were league games at Siloam Springs last Friday and at home against Russellville this past Tuesday night.
The Bulldogs extended their meager winning streak to two games with a 56-52 win over the Cyclones. The game was close throughout, and once again the GHS boys avoided a bad quarter, though they did give up a double-digit lead in the second half.
The 'Dogs got off to a good start, scoring the game's first four points on a baseline jumper and a tip-in after an offensive rebound, but trailed 14-13 at the end of the period.
Greenwood tied the score at 16 on a three-pointer by junior Jordan Sheppard at the 6:16 mark of the second quarter. Russellville tied the score again at 23, but the Bulldogs went on to take the lead at the half, 29-23. Sheppard, Ronin Stewart, and Zane Harmon scored the final six points.
After the Cyclones cut the margin to 31-29 early in the third quarter, Greenwood outscored the visitors 13-7 over the final five minutes to lead 44-46 after 24 minutes. But the victory wouldn't come that cheaply as Russellville rallied in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 51-45 with under three minutes left, the Cyclones scored five unanswered points and trailed 51-50 at the 1:47 mark. After the Bulldogs missed the front end of two consecutive one-and-one opportunities at the free throw line, Russellville hit two free throws to take a 52-51 lead with 49 seconds left in the game.
Jordan Sheppard then scored on a reverse lay-up to put the 'Dogs on top again by one point. After a Cyclones' turnover, Greenwood's Alec Armstrong sank a charity shot with just nine ticks left on the clock, and two more two seconds later to account for the final score, 56-52.
Armstrong, a senior, had nine points in the game, but Sheppard led the team with 18 points. Junior Zane Harmon had 14 points and senior Devin Gilbert added nine points.
After the game, Head Coach Greg Nichols was pleased with the win, but disappointed that the game came down to the wire. "We had an 11-point lead," he said. "I thought we made some mental mistakes, forcing some shots, and they know better than that. They just get in a hurry. I'm gripping, but I'm tickled to death to have a two-game winning streak too.
The coach agreed that getting off to a good start was crucial to the victory. "We talked about that before we came out, about jumping on them early and making them play man-to-man [defense]," he said. "But [Russellville] fought back and got into that zone [defense] and gave us problems. But we were able to get them out of it again, and that's when we are most effective."
After starting the regular season with a 3-3 record, the Bulldogs had gone winless since the second week of December, also going winless through their first four conference games. But the GHS boys put together a complete game at Clarksville, avoiding the inconsistency that has plagued much of their play this season.
Still, Clarksville held the lead for most of the game. Greenwood trailed 18-15 after one quarter and 31-27 at the half. But the Bulldogs never wavered, winning each of the last two periods to find themselves tied at the end of regulation, 55-all.
The teams combined to scored 20 points in the two extra periods of four minutes each. In the second overtime the Bulldogs took an early one-point lead and went to their delay game, forcing the Panthers to foul, putting Greenwood at the free throw line. Sophomore guard Peyton Holt hit five of six free throws in OT to help cement the 67-63 win.
The 'Dogs got balanced scoring up and down the roster with three players in double digits. Holt led the way with 15 points, followed by Jordan Sheppard with 14 while Alec Armstrong had 10 points. Devin Gilbert and Zane Harmon both added eight points each.
"It was a dogfight all the way," said Coach Nichols. "Clarksville's got a very good team. Defensively we just kept going at them. When we had to go to double OT [Clarksville] looked a little tired. Our kids just kept plugging and pulled out the win. We had balanced scoring and it was all six quarters. We did a good job. Defensively we kind of stepped up.
Last Friday the GHS boys traveled to Siloam Springs for their first 6A conference contest after dropping their first three league games to Class 5A foes Alma, Farmington, and Harrison.
"In the first quarter we just couldn't get the ball to go in the hole," said Coach Nichols. "We took good shots. We missed some easy shots. We missed some threes. The ball just wouldn't go in the hole for us. Then we just kept fighting back and we tied it up with under 4:00 to go in the game at 41-all."
As they have done several times this season, the Bulldogs fell behind early after a poor offensive performance in the opening period. Trailing 14-2, they rallied somewhat in the second quarter and trailed by 10 points at the half, 27-17.
But a strong third quarter effort cut the deficit to just five points at 37-32. Greenwood continued the rally early in the fourth period, outscoring the Panthers 9-4 to tie the score at 41-all with just under 4:00 remaining. But that's when the wheels came off.
Without a single second running off the clock, Clarksville scored six consecutive points at the charity stripe. A series of free throws involving a quirky bounce out-of-bounds and a questionable technical foul led to the unusual circumstances, and the Bulldogs could not recover. The home team went on to post a 57-48 victory.
Zane Harmon led Greenwood in scoring with 18 points, followed by Jordan Sheppard with 15 points.
"The kids played hard and did some things well," said Coach Nichols. "They didn't quit and kept hanging in there and fighting for it. I think eventually, if we keep working at it, we're going to be alright."
The GHS boys have six conference games remaining on their regular season slate, starting with Alma Friday night at H.B. Stewart Arena. They also host Clarksville next Tuesday before hitting the road again at Farmington next Friday.
After the regular season and 6A/5A West schedule ends on Thursday, February 16th at Russellville, the Bulldogs will take part in the 6A West conference tournament. Greenwood, Russellville, and Siloam Springs will join El Dorado, Sheridan, Texarkana, Benton, and Lake Hamilton to determine which six teams advance to the 6A state tournament.
The opening round of the conference tournament begins on Saturday, February 18th, with the higher seeded teams hosting each game. The state tournament will be played in Lake Hamilton starting February 27th.