Despite their sub .500 record so far in non-conference play, the Class 5A Greenwood Bulldogs (3-5) have improved greatly over their performance the last two seasons, evidenced by the closeness of their recent losses, all to some of the largest Class 6A schools in Northwest Arkansas.
“I’m not satisfied by any stretch,” said Head Coach Donnie Husband, now in his third season with the Bulldogs, “but the progress seems to be going forward. The train is still on the tracks.” The longtime Oklahoma coach with 600-plus wins to his credit believes this year’s team has more talent and potential with four experienced seniors returning along with some talented underclassmen.
The GHS boys started their season in November with a 2-1 record after wins over Clarksville and Mena and a loss to Gravette. The ‘Dogs opened December at Rogers-Heritage and Springdale, before hosting Bentonville-West and Fort Smith Southside, then traveling to Springdale Har-ber last Friday.
The team won’t see live action again until after the Christmas break, welcoming Fayetteville to H.B. Stewart Arena on December 30th. The game with Bentonville slated for the 28th has been cancelled. Greenwood will host Farmington on January 2nd before opening 5A West conference play at Greenbrier on January 5th.
A disastrous first half for Greenwood was too much to overcome at Springdale Har-Ber’s Wildcat Arena last Friday (December 18th) as the home team held off the Bulldogs for a 52-42 victory. Limited to just nine points in the first half, the ‘Dogs responded with 22 points in the third quarter and 33 overall during their second half rally, but still fell short. Greenwood clawed back to within seven points in the second half before Har-Ber sealed the victory in the closing minutes.
“We had a terrible first half,” said Coach Husband. “We couldn’t throw it in the ocean,” referring to his team’s poor shooting. “We didn’t do anything well at all, then we come out and just dominated. We get a 20-point game all the way down to seven. But we never should have been in that situation. That was the frustrating thing. If we put two halves together, we win.
“That’s kind of where we are at,” he continued. “We’re more competitive but we’re inconsistent. We’ve played ten guys in just about every game so far, but those ten guys have just never played together [before]. We’ve got a couple sophomores playing and a couple guys playing for the first time in varsity, so there’s a lot of inconsistency.”
Asked about his football players, Husband said, “They had seven practices and they had to jump right in. We just kind of threw them to the wolves right off the bat, but they’ve done well and helped us. We put two of them (Stein and Kennon) in the starting lineup and so far they’ve done pretty good. Those guys are going to get better as we go along.”
At Har-Ber the Bulldogs had more fouls (10) in the first half than points (9), while Har-Ber drew just six whistles. The trend carried over into the second half with Greenwood committing seven fouls to Har-Ber's three. The visitors cut their deficit to 45-38 with about four minutes left to play, but could get no closer. The ‘Dogs trailed 29-9 at the half and 43-31 after three periods.
Greenwood's second-half comeback was powered by six three-pointers, three from senior guard Caleb Ligon, who finished the contest with a team-high 15 points. Greenwood's second-leading scorer was senior center Braden Stein with eight points. Senior Evan Bartlett and sophomore Aiden Kennon added seven points each.
Fort Smith Southside
The GHS boys got a much-needed win over the Mavericks on December 15th in a two-point nail biter, winning 50-48, despite not playing their best basketball, according to Coach Husband. The Bulldogs did manage to spread out their scoring, reaching double digits in all four quarters with five players netting at least eight points.
The game was close throughout, with neither team able to pull away. Greenwood led 12-11 after eight minutes and 28-27 at the intermission. The Southsiders tied the score after three periods at 49-all before Greenwood pulled out the narrow win in the final minutes.
The Bulldogs were led in scoring by Ligon with 12 points, Stein with 11 points, and junior forward Chase Beshears with 10 points. Junior guard Sam Forbus added nine points and Bartlett had eight points.
“We beat Southside, but we didn’t play well,” admitted Husband. “We had 20-plus turnovers but still managed to hold on and win with a good defensive stand at the end. Two things were huge – being able to not play well and still win [against Southside], and then against Har-Ber responding to a horrible first half by outscoring them 33-23 in the second half.”
On December 12th the Bulldogs hosted the Wolverines of Bentonville-West and fought hard to overcome a slow start after scoring just five points in the opening period. Trailing 16-5 after eight minutes, the ‘Dogs battled back to outscore the visitors in the second period, cutting into the lead to trail by only six points at the half, 29-23.
The two teams mirrored one another over the final two quarters. The Wolverines outscored the Bulldogs 17-11 in the third period while Greenwood outscored Bentonville-West by an identical amount in the fourth stanza, keeping the final margin of Bentonville’s victory at six points, 57-51.
Sam Forbus led the GHS offense with 17 points, the only Bulldog in double digits. Also scoring were Braden Stein with eight points while Caleb Ligon and junior forward Lance Marek had seven points each.
The Bulldogs were beaten on the boards, 46-36, though both teams shot a comparable field goal percentage, each making about one-third of their shots from the floor. The biggest difference came at the charity stripe, where the Wolverines held a 78 to 62 percent advantage. Greenwood had eight steals in the contest.
A day before hosting Bentonville-West, the GHS boys traveled north to face the Springdale Bulldogs, also known as the Red ‘Dogs. Greenwood briefly led in the first quarter, but trailed 16-11 at the buzzer, and was never able to regain the advantage. The teams played just about even for the remainder of the game with Springdale leading 27-21 at the half.
The visitors narrowly outscored the home team in the third stanza, 10-9, cutting the GHS deficit to five points at 36-31, making for a competitive fourth quarter. Caleb Ligon drilled a three-pointer inside the final two minutes to pull the Bulldogs within two points, but the Red ‘Dogs countered with a long-distance bomb of their own to preserve their five-point cushion. They hit five of six free throws in the final minute to seal the win, 52-45.
Coach Husband was pleased that his team showed some fire in the final minutes, saying, “I think we woke up in the fourth quarter, and it was kind of the same way with Bentonville-West. We woke up and thought, ‘Hey, we could win this.’ We were within two points with a minute to go at Springdale, and they hit a shot and we didn’t. It was the same way with Bentonville-West. We fought back and it’s a two-point game and they get an offensive rebound and we had to foul. We had legitimate opportunities to win both those games.”
Statistically, the Springdale boys won the shooting battle, hitting 47% of their field goals and 31% of their three-point attempts, while Greenwood hit just 34% of their floor shots and 33% of their treys. The Red ‘Dogs also hit 75% of their free throws compared to just 62% for the visitors.
Caleb Ligon led Greenwood with 14 points, while Braden Stein added seven, Lance Merek six, and Sam Forbus netted five points. The GHS boys also had 11 assists in the contest and outrebounded Springdale 33 to 19.
It was Greenwood’s first game this season with a full squad, including their four football players – seniors Braden Stein and Jase Strozier, and sophomores Hunter Houston and Aiden Kennon – who had just a few days of practice after winning the 6A state football championship on December 5th.
Still without their football players, including two starters, the basketball Bulldogs went to Rogers on December 1st and suffered a tough loss to the Class 6A War Eagles, 58-22. The visitors were also playing without some of their other regulars, including leading scorer Sam Forbus, and it showed.
“We had some guys out that night,” explained Coach Husband. “It was one of those perfect storms. We were limited in some of the things we could do. It was kind of a last minute thing and we really weren’t prepared. It’s one of those games you’d like to forget about and move on.”
Greenwood shot just 25% from the floor compared to 61% for Heritage. The ‘Dogs were also outrebounded by a two-to-one margin, 30-15, and were bested from beyond the three-point line by a margin of 29% to 19%. The home team also had more assists, steals, and blocks than the visitors. The Bulldogs were outscored 19-11 in the opening eight minutes, but things only got worse after that, as Greenwood scored just 11 more points over the final three periods.
Greenwood was missing senior starting center Braden Stein and talented sophomores Hunter Houston and Aiden Kennon, along with senior Jase Strozier. All four were key players for the gridiron Bulldogs who won the tenth state title in school history. On the hardcourt, Houston and Kennon are expected to be a key utility players and potential starters at guard, while Strozier will see time at point guard. Stein is the team’s biggest player at 6’6” and 290 pounds.
But despite the 3-5 record, Coach Husband remains upbeat about his team’s progress so far this season, though he continues to look for more consistency and improved team chemistry as the football players round into basketball shape before the team opens conference play in January. The next two games against Fayetteville and Farmington will be important to set the tone for the start of league competition.
“We’ve got four of five more practices before we play Fayetteville and Farmington, so we’ve got to get some things done, because we’ve got to hit the ground running pretty quick in conference if we’re going to do anything. It’s just a work in progress trying to fit all the pieces into place. We just need to learn how to win,” said the coach.