The Greenwood Bulldogs are about to begin their annual 14-game journey through the 5A West conference with Friday’s home game against the Russellville Cyclones at H.B. Stewart Arena. Coach Donnie Husband and assistant Dexter Pearcy have been feverishly preparing their troops for the past several months, but especially since the arrival of key reinforcements after football season ended in early December.
Some of those football players have now become starters for the basketball team despite having only a handful of practices under their belt. Out of necessity they are playing their way into shape, and did so with some success last week, winning two of three games in a tournament at Mountain Home. According to Coach Husband, his team is making strides and improving with the approach of conference play.
Asked about the logistics of the trip, Coach Husband said, “We stayed three days. We wouldn’t have been able to drive [back and forth]. It would have worn them completely out. It was tough enough as it was. The first day we got there we played. That happened pretty quick. But we went bowling one night and we went out to eat. We spent a lot of time together in meetings and we watched a couple games and the next opponent. It was a productive three days. Anytime you spend time together on the road you get to know each other better.”
Between Christmas and the New Year’s holidays, the Bulldogs headed to Mountain Home for that three-day tournament, spending time together on the road, building team chemistry. Their first opponents last Tuesday (Dec. 27th) were the Paragould Bulldogs from Northeast Arkansas, members of the 5A East, potentially a state tournament foe should both teams qualify for the playoffs at the end of the season. The game was close until midway through the fourth quarter when Paragould pulled away for the 80-64 win, dropping Greenwood into the loser’s bracket of the 8-team field.
Coach Husband’s team scored 10 points in the opening period, but trailed 14-10 after eight minutes. However, a strong second quarter turned things around for Greenwood, which led 33-30 at the intermission. But just as quickly, things got out of hand when play resumed, and Paragould stroked the net on their end of the court for an incredible 29 points compared to 15 for Greenwood. Paragould led 59-48 after three periods.
According to the GHS head coach, “We scored the first basket after halftime and were up five points, but they had one kid that we just could not slow down, a little guard that was just too tough for us. They also had some other kids who shot better than they had before, and [the game] just got away from us.” Paragould also won the fourth quarter, 21-16.
Despite the loss, offensively, the Bulldogs showed balanced scoring with no less than seven players netting at least six points each, three of them in double figures. Senior guard Dawson Holt kicked of a personal three-day offensive show with 13 points and finished the tournament with 45 total points to lead all GHS scorers.
L.J. Robins was next with 12 points against Paragould, followed by Coach Husband’s son, Josh Ligon, with 10 points. Both players are juniors. Sophomore Grant Karnes added eight points and junior Brady Mackey chipped in with seven points. Senior Aiden Kennon and junior Braden Bollman both scored six points each.
Game two last Wednesday was against the Class 2A Dragons of Junction City, who traveled all the way from the Arkansas-Louisiana line to Mountain Home, and tip-off was set for 11:30 in the morning. “Those [early starts] are always challenging, getting [the players] to bed and getting them to sleep. But the kids did a good job. It was good to get a couple wins and get home and get ready for [Russellville] this week,” said the GHS coach.
Against Junction City, like Greenwood, a school better known for its football prowess, the Bulldogs jumped out to an early double-digit lead and withstood a fourth quarter rally by the Dragons to hold on for a 10-point victory, 67-57. Three GHS players scored in double figures in the unusual midday contest.
Greenwood dominated the opening quarter and led 21-8 after eight minutes. Junction City regrouped and won the second period, 19-15, but still trailed at the half, 36-27. The Bulldogs then rebuilt their earlier lead with a strong third quarter, outscoring the Dragons by nine points. Junction City won the final stanza by six points, but it wasn’t enough to erase the GHS lead. The Bulldogs walked away at the buzzer with a 67-57 win.
For the ‘Dogs, Dawson Holt continued his fine offensive play by leading his teammates in scoring with 20 points. “Dawson had a real good week,” said Coach Husband when asked about the play of his senior guard. “He really had three good games.” Aiden Kennon added 15 points and L.J. Robins chipped in with 12 points. Brady Mackey added seven points and Josh Ligon contributed six points.
On the final day of tournament play last Thursday, the Bulldogs tangled with the Class 3A Flippin Bobcats, whose high school is located about 15 miles from Mountain Home. But despite being in familiar territory, the Bobcats lost three of the four quarters to the Bulldogs before losing, 61-52.
“We had a big lead in the fourth quarter and just got lackadaisical and didn’t finish it off very strong,” lamented Coach Husband, though still grateful for the victory. “Sometimes that’s to be expected at this point, but we were better than they were. They were a smaller school and had a post [player] that gave us some trouble. He was pretty versatile. But their kids spent 20 minutes on a bus, and we spent the night in a motel and we were able to come out of there with a win.”
Greenwood won the first period, 15-10, and the second, 15-7, for a 30-17 lead at the intermission. The Flippin boys then rallied in the third quarter to cut their deficit nearly in half at 40-33, but the Bulldogs held them off as the teams combined for 40 points in the fourth quarter. The ‘Dogs outscored the Bobcats by two, 21-19, over the final eight minutes.
Coach Husband got solid scoring up and down the GHS roster, led by Brady Mackey with 15 points. Aiden Kennon added 13 points and Dawson Holt had 12 points. Three other players scored seven points each, including L.J. Robins, Brenden Chick, and Josh Ligon.
Asked about the emerging presence of Brady Mackey during the three days at Mountain Home, Coach Husband said, “He had a real good game against Flippin, and I think he’s still only been to four practices.” The junior guard battled illness for more than a week after football and didn’t join the team until mid-December, but has shown the ability to shake off the rust and score points for the Bulldogs.
“He’s a good offensive player whose going to get better and better,” the coach continued. “Right now he’ll give us a lot of firepower off the bench. He’s a double figure guy off the bench, and that’s a nice thing to have.” Mackey had a total of 29 points in the three games in Baxter County. Winning two of three at Mountain Home was good preparation and gives the Bulldogs some positive momentum heading into conference play this Friday.
“I was encouraged by our offense,” said Husband when asked about his impressions of his team’s play at Mountain Home. “I’m a little bit concerned about us defensively, and that’s been a reoccurring theme over the last couple weeks. I don’t think we’re as good defensively as we need to be to compete nightly and win the conference. We haven’t guarded the ball as well as we need to. We’re getting broken down too often by dribble penetration, and part of that is conditioning. We probably don’t have anybody in great game shape right now. That’s partly why we’re playing so many kids. But there’s too much fouling and we’re not moving our feet. We need something to hang our hats on defensively. We’ve got a chance to be a pretty good offensive team if we can get stops [defensively]. It all goes hand in hand.”
The Russellville Cyclones have been the team to beat in the 5A West for the past several years and a win by Greenwood on Friday would be a great way to start the league schedule and put the rest of the conference on notice regarding the Bulldogs. “It would be,” agreed the coach, “and we’re more than capable of doing it. We haven’t played above our heads yet as far as overachieving and playing [at a level] better than we are. That’s what we did last year, but we haven’t gotten to that point [yet]. Hopefully, with three more practices this week we’ll get some more tools in our toolbox, with better conditioning, more reps, and the whole thing, we’ll be ready to step on the floor with them and compete at a high level, which we’ll have to do,” added the coach.
“They’ve had almost as many games [seven] as they’ve had practices,” he added, referring to his football players still working their way into basketball shape, trying to regain their hardcourt skills despite a disruptive December schedule. “Practice is where you gain confidence, teamwork, repetition, and on and on. There’s no doubt it’s a tough transition for those guys, and I respect that. I wish we were further along, but given all the challenges that we face in this kind of situation, we have to feel good about where we are with the understanding that we have a long way to go.”
The coach is also certain that the routine of going to school daily without the interruptions of the holidays and playing twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays while practicing the rest of the week will make a big difference for his Bulldogs. “I’m optimistic that we can continue to move forward, but there’s a lot of challenges we still face,” said the coach.
Husband also revealed that post player Peyton Presson has been given a medical release to return to basketball and has already participated in a few practices. He could even see some action against the Cyclones on Friday. The 6’2” junior is one of the team’s tallest players and was expected to fill a major role in the middle for the Bulldogs this season before being injured on the gridiron in late October. At the time he was blossoming as one of Greenwood’s top receivers, but now hopes to put those good hands to work for Coach Husband and the basketball ‘Dogs.