The Greenwood Bulldogs took to the practice floor this week with a renewed sense of purpose. With the opening of the 5A West conference season this coming Friday against Little Rock Christian, the ‘Dogs are hoping for a better showing that last year’s winless record in league play.
Ironically, the GHS boys (3-10) have duplicated last season’s non-conference win total, but that’s where they want the comparison to stop. Over the next seven weeks they hope to change things by notching a few league victories against 5A West opponents.
“We’re still a ways away,” said Head Coach Donnie Husband at the end of last season. “But I think if we can have a good off-season, a good summer and a good pre-season, that we can be more competitive.
“But we’ve got to find a way to put the ball in the basket,” he added. “Defensively, not having a rim protector, I thought we were competitive. Most of the teams we played, their scoring was down.
“We’ve got to get consistent offensively and find more guys who can score. We’ve got to make a bigger commitment to shoot the ball more. We’ve got to find offense,” said the coach.
Asked about the lessons from last season, Husband said, “The biggest thing is you appreciate what [the players] did. You appreciate that they handled some adversity and fought through it and stuck together.
“We’ve [now] got a better idea of exactly where we need to get to [in the conference]. If we can just get five possessions better [every game] that will make a big difference for us.”
That was then, but what about now? Have the ‘Dogs gotten five possessions better over the past 10 months, or can they do so over the next seven weeks? The answer to those questions will not only determine the outcome of this season but will indicate how far the program must go to truly be competitive in the 5A West.
As for breaking through and getting a few wins against the upcoming conference schedule, Coach Husband said earlier this week, “It’s a huge point of emphasis for us. To get that first one would be a big deal.
“We’ve just got to figure out how to make some plays going down the stretch and get a ball to go in or get a crucial stop.”
GHS basketball fans are hoping for the best as the league season tips off Friday night at on the road at Little Rock Christian. The Bulldogs will then host Russellville next Tuesday before traveling to Vilonia next Friday. Those two schools are considered to be among the best in the 5A West.
Over the holiday break, the GHS boys had some success in tournament play in Sperry, Oklahoma, winning two of three games. After the Christmas and New Year’s Day celebrations they returned to the hardcourt last weekend, playing on the road at Farmington and Fort Smith Northside.
The tournament was played December 19-21 and the Bulldogs lost their opening round contest to the Hoops For Christ Warriors in a low-scoring affair. Greenwood failed to reach double digits in scoring in any of the game’s four quarters, losing 39-28.
The Bulldogs trailed 11-8 after one period, 18-16 at the half, and 29-24 after three quarters. Scoring just 12 points in the second half, Greenwood lost by 11.
Braden Stein led the team in scoring with 10 points, followed by Jayce Garnes with nine points and Evan Bartlett with seven.
In game two, a good offensive first half propelled Greenwood to a 43-26 victory over the Oklahoma City Storm. Greenwood trailed 14-12 after eight minutes but led 25-18 after a solid second quarter. The ‘Dogs led 34-25 after three periods and gave up just three points defensively in the final stanza.
Jayce Garnes led the team with 17 points, the only GHS player in double figures. Braden Stein added eight points, while Sam Forbus had six points and Evan Bartlett five points.
The final game of the tournament for Greenwood was against the junior varsity squad from Jenks High School, one of the largest in the state of Oklahoma. Greenwood held a narrow lead throughout most of the game and came away with a 44-38 victory to finish the tournament with a 2-1 record.
The GHS boys led 14-12 after eight minutes and 23-19 at the intermission. The two squads played almost even in the third period, with Greenwood still leading 31-28 as the game moved into the fourth quarter, won by the Bulldogs, 13-10.
Garnes led Greenwood with 18 points, finishing with a strong second half. Stein and Bartlett both added eight points to the total, with Sam Forbus contributing seven points and Caleb Ligon five points.
Earlier this week Coach Husband reflected on his team’s play in the Sooner State before Christmas.
“We held them way down [scoring-wise],” he said of the opener against Hoops for Christ. “We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket. But we played pretty good basketball the next two nights. It was nice, [but] we felt like we could have gotten out of there with three wins.”
The Bulldogs survived a barrage of three-pointers in the opening quarter last Friday, all by the same Cardinals’ player, and remained competitive throughout the contest, scoring in double digits in all four periods.
Greenwood scored 12 points in the first, third, and fourth periods, and 10 points in the second. But the Cards were just a hair better on their home court, winning 61-46.
Once again, the Bulldogs were led in scoring by Jayce Garnes with 14 points, most of that in the first half. Aaron Ligon, in his first game back after suffering a foot injury in football, scored seven points, while Sam Forbus had six points and Caleb Ligon and Evan Bartlett had five each.
Braden Stein and Jay Wright had four points each. On the plus side, the Bulldogs got offensive contributions from eight different players, perhaps a good sign for the future.
Coach Husband talked about the return of his son, senior Aaron Ligon, to the lineup. “He’s close to 100%. He gives us a spark off the bench and the ability to make some shots and create havoc defensively.”
The GHS coach also dissected the most critical part of the game that occurred early in the second period.
“We were down two [points] at the end of the first quarter, and I think we got six straight defensive stops to start the second quarter and we only scored one point. It could have been a 10-0 run,” he added.
“Those dry runs continue to plague us and keeps us from getting over the hump. Just breaking through and getting one of those games and getting some confidence would be a wonderful thing for us. But other than that one quarter, I thought we played pretty well.”
Unfortunately, the ‘Dogs didn’t fare as well in last Saturday’s visit to Kaundart Fieldhouse in Fort Smith. It was the long-awaited home opener for the Northside Grizzlies, and they wasted little time taking care of business, scoring the game’s first 10 points to bury the Bulldogs right from the opening tip.
The 10-0 scoring run was punctuated by a dunk from Northside senior Jaylin Williams, and the Bears went on to build a 28-5 lead before the break. Greenwood managed to score 22 points in the second half, but it wasn’t nearly enough to prevent the Grizzlies from winning their eighth consecutive game, 54-30.
Jayce Garnes scored 11 points to lead the Bulldogs, followed by Forbus with seven points and Stein with six.
“We [only] had 15 turnovers, which I thought was really good against [Northside],” said Husband, “but we shot one-for-17 in the first quarter, and for the most part those were good shots. We just didn’t hit them.
“But to be down 20-something at half and come back out and be competitive in the second half, I thought was really good,” said the coach. “I think the positives outweigh the negatives. I think we’ve seen progress
“There are times when we’ve looked like we are five possessions better, but we still struggle at times to put the ball in the basket. The consistency of it is something we still struggle with,” he said.
“We were 3-7 before Christmas and nine of those [games] could have gone either way,” said Husband. “We could have won some of those, but in the end, we’ve got to figure out how to win.”