The Greenwood varsity boys have their work cut out for them after an 0-3 start in 5A West conference play. Head Coach Donnie Husband’s team has dropped its first three league contests, including two home games to Russellville and Harrison. Their road loss was at Van Buren. The Bulldogs return to action on Tuesday night at Siloam Springs before hosting Mountain Home on Friday.
But despite their 0-3 deficit in conference play, the Bulldogs still have hope of turning things around based on what they did last season to reach the playoffs. The Greenwood boys ended last year’s conference race with a three-game winning streak to finish 7-7 in the final standings and earn the #4 seed and an invitation to the post-season dance. They closed strong, a fact not diminished by their first-round playoff loss to perennial basketball power Little Rock Parkview.
The Bulldogs opened league play on Friday, January 6th at home in H.B. Stewart Arena against the Russellville boys. The Cyclones have been the team to beat in recent years in conference play and posed both a challenge and an opportunity for the GHS boys to make an early statement in the league race. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs were unable to take advantage of the occasion, dropping their conference opener, 50-37.
The Cyclones rolled to a 15-9 first quarter lead and increased their advantage to 28-19 by the halftime intermission. The Bulldogs won the third quarter, but just barely, 10-9, and still trailed by eight points after three periods, 37-29. The visitors then closed out their victory by outscoring Greenwood 13-8 over the final eight minutes of play.
Two GHS players finished in double figures offensively, seniors Dawson Holt and Aiden Kennon. Holt netted 16 points and had three rebounds. Kennon added 11 points while grabbing nine rebounds with a pair of steals in the game. Junior Braden Bollman added six points and junior Peyton Presson scored two points, but contributed with nine rebounds, two steals, four blocked shots, and three assists. It was Presson’s first game back since suffering a football injury last October. His presence should make a positive difference in the Bulldogs’ lineup, but he will need time to play his way back into basketball shape.
Van Buren Pointers
The Bulldogs’ first road trip in conference play was a short one across the Arkansas River to neighboring Crawford County at Van Buren last Tuesday, January 10th. But the Pointers jumped out to a big first quarter lead and never looked back. Van Buren had little trouble with the visiting Bulldogs, cruising to a lopsided 68-31 mercy rule victory.
A flurry of four three-pointers by the home team helped them build a 22-8 lead after one quarter. But Greenwood did close the second stanza with a 9-0 run to trim Van Buren’s lead to 31-19 at halftime, temporarily keeping the Bulldogs in the game. But Van Buren blistered the net for 26 points in the third quarter to apply the Arkansas Activities Association’s Sportsmanship Rule heading into the fourth period.
Trailing 57-24 with just eight minutes remaining, the Bulldogs scored just seven points before the final buzzer, accounting for the 68-31 final. Van Buren had runs of 10-0 and 12-0 in the first quarter, 9-0 in the second quarter, and 11-0 and 15-0 in the third quarter on the strength of 12 three-pointers in the game.
Greenwood was led in scoring by Dawson Holt and Aiden Kennon with eight points each. Also of note, junior Josh Ligon (concussion) and senior Hunter Houston (knee) were both injured during the game, with Houston’s injury requiring surgery.
At home against Harrison last Friday the Bulldogs (5-11, 0-3) held an eight-point lead, 39-31, with just over three minutes left in the third period, but were unable to maintain their advantage, letting the game slip away in the fourth quarter, losing 61-54. Their second home loss to start conference play was especially hurtful, leaving them very little margin of error in their remaining five home games against league foes. They will likely also need two or three road wins to make the playoffs.
The game was tight throughout, tied at 12-all after eight minutes. Greenwood led 25-22 late in the second period before the Goblins closed with a 5-0 run to take a 27-25 halftime advantage. But the Bulldogs opened second half play with a flourish. Aiden Kennon tied the score at 27-all, followed by a layup from junior L.J. Robins and another bucket by Kennon to put Greenwood on top, 32-29. Robins scored again, Kennon added a free throw, then Robins had back-to-back layups to build that 39-31 advantage, forcing the Goblins’ bench to call a timeout to regroup.
It was a good move by the Harrison coaching staff, stopping the GHS momentum and giving their troops time to recover. The Goblins then closed the quarter with a pair of 4-0 scoring runs and trailed by only two points when the buzzer sounded, 41-39. The two teams then traded leads early in the fourth stanza and another Robins’ layup off a teammate’s steal put the Bulldogs up 48-46 midway through the period, Greenwood’s last lead.
Harrison then went on another 4-0 run to retake the lead for good. The Goblins then added a 5-0 run to widen their advantage in the final minutes. With just over 60 seconds remaining the Bulldogs trailed 57-48. Greenwood then got a pair of three pointers from Kennon and Robins in the final seconds, but it wasn’t enough to make a difference in the 61-54 loss. Peyton Presson, Aiden Kennon, and L.J. Robins all had 13 points each for the Bulldogs.
After a tough week for his team, Coach Husband’s comments were somewhat subdued after Friday’s loss to Harrison. He revealed that Hunter Houston’s injury could be season ending for the senior, who was among the first players to come off the bench for the Bulldogs the past couple of seasons, though there remained hope he could return before league play ended. Ligon’s injury was less concerning, and he should return by the end of this week.
As for the loss to the Goblins, Husband said, “I think the two guys sitting out (Houston, Ligon) hurt us, but I thought our kids gave tremendous effort to try to make up the difference. I was really proud of how hard they played, I just wish we would have executed a lot better. Once we built the eight-point lead I don’t think we did a very good job of executing. We didn’t get as many easy baskets and got a little impatient offensively. We missed some wide open shots and had a couple turnovers here and there. It was just a lack of execution, not a lack of effort.”
The GHS head coach also praised the play of the four Bulldogs who helped fill the gap left by the absence of Ligon and Houston. “The kids that played did a great job, every one of them. Grant [Karnes], Brenden [Chick], Braden [Bollman], and Jayden [Garnes] came in to supplement the other four [starters] and did a good job. I was really proud of how hard they played and the fact that they were ready to step in and help us. We just didn’t get over the hump.”
As for the league race, Husband said the conference appears to be pretty evenly matched. “Anybody can play well on any given night, but we’re obviously bringing up the rear right now. At some point we’re going to have to win some tough road games or we’re not going to get where we want to go [the playoffs]. There’s no sugarcoating it one way or another. We have to win. Playing hard is a good thing. Being competitive is a great thing. But in the end we have to find a way to win, and we haven’t done that yet, and it doesn't get any easier. We’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ve got to get things turned around. But sometimes you create your own momentum by how hard you work.
“We were 1-2 last year [in conference], so we will see,” he continued. “I think the league is tougher [this season]. I don’t think there’s a team as good as Russellville was last year, but it’s more balanced. There’s not a lot of ‘gimmes.’ But all we can do is show up and play and keep working at it every day and hope that it falls our way at some point at time.”