The last 20-plus days have been quite the challenge for the GHS varsity boys’ basketball team and Head Coach Donnie Husband, now in his third season at Greenwood, along with first year varsity assistant coach Dexter Pearcy. The ‘Dogs have posted a 4-8 record so far and are 0-2 in 5A West conference play after recent losses to Greenbrier and Russellville. League play continues this weekend with Greenwood hosting Vilonia on Friday at H.B. Stewart Arena.
Over the last month the Bulldogs have integrated four key players into their rotation after the end of football season in early December, but have also battled scheduling issues caused by cancellations or postponements, giving them fewer quarters of live action in which to find their identity and develop team chemistry. They also lost one of their four seniors, who opted out of the remainder of the season.
Still, despite the sub .500 record, Coach Husband remains encouraged about the performance of his team. The ‘Dogs are clearly more competitive than in the past couple of seasons and have only been blown out once this season at Rogers-Heritage, playing that night with a depleted roster while awaiting the arrival of their football athletes.
Those players, including starting center Braden Stein, a senior, and sophomore Aiden Kennon, have now been on the practice floor and competing in games for a month, and are rounding into basketball shape, giving the team more size, experience, and talent. Another senior, Jase Strozier, recently decided to give up basketball in pursuit of a college football offer. He was a valuable possession receiver for the unbeaten (14-0) state champion Bulldogs this past season and is receiving interest from several schools.
Improvements and challenges aside, the ‘Dogs are still lacking consistency in their play and could use another scorer or two, said Coach Husband after last Friday’s home loss to Russellville. “We’ve got to become more consistent, and we've got to find some shooters. We've got to get shooters on the floor. We don't have enough of that."
The game against Russellville dropped the Bulldogs to 0-2 in 5A West conference play, but their third league contest at Van Buren was postponed this past Tuesday due to Covid-19 concerns by the host school, forcing Greenwood to look for an alternate opponent or sit through an open date. Fortunately, the Nashville Scrappers had a similar problem, and were willing to travel to Greenwood for a non-conference contest, won by the Bulldogs in exciting fashion, 63-56.
The visitors led throughout most of the game, only to see the home team rally in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Scrappers 19-11 over the final eight minutes. Greenwood was also the beneficiary of some exceptional good luck, hitting two three-pointers at the buzzer ending the first quarter and the third, the latter one banked off the glass from beyond halfcourt. But they all count, and the Bulldogs rode their good fortune and hustle to a much-needed victory.
Braden Stein scored inside on a short jumper to begin the scoring against Nashville, but the Scrappers soon took charge, leading 7-4, 11-6, and 13-9 before senior Caleb Ligon’s three-pointer at the buzzer trimmed the visitors’ advantage to 16-12 after one period.
Junior guard Micah Lensing then entered the game early in the second quarter and gave the Bulldogs an immediate lift, scoring five quick points and playing well on defense. His three-pointer from the corner even gave Greenwood a brief lead at 17-16 before Nashville rallied with a 7-0 scoring run, stretching the Scrappers’ margin back to 23-17.
The Bulldogs were bad at the free throw line in the first half, missing all four of their attempts. But Stein scored inside, followed by Ligon’s rebound and put back and a three-pointer by junior Sam Forbus to keep them in the game at the half, trailing 28-24.
The two squads traded three-pointers to open the third period, and the Nashville boys maintained their slim lead throughout the period, usually by two to five points. But the Bulldogs refused to go away and kept themselves within striking distance, finally making a few free throws. Then with one second remaining, senior Evan Bartlett received the inbound pass with just enough time to turn and make a one-handed heave toward the basket, striking the backboard at precisely the right angle for the miracle three-pointer, cutting the GHS deficit to 45-44.
Braden Stein tied the score at the free throw line early in the final stanza, followed by Bartlett’s steal and layup, which put Greenwood on top to stay, 47-45. Caleb Ligon added a three-pointer, making the score 50-45, and the Bulldogs eventually went up by nine, 56-47, with just under three minutes left to play. Nashville also went cold from the floor as the GHS boys smelled victory and played hard defensively. Ligon and Bartlett finished off the 63-56 win at the free throw line.
Offensively, the Bulldogs were led by Ligon, Coach Husband’s son, with 15 points. Bartlett finished with 14 points, and Braden Stein added 11 points, followed by Sam Forbus with eight points, Aiden Kennon with seven, and Micah Lensing with six points. Junior Chase Beshears rounded out the GHS scoring with two points.
Despite missing out on a conference game, the win over Nashville was huge for the Bulldogs, who have already matched their win total (4) from all of last season. It gives them some momentum and confidence heading back into league play this Friday against Vilonia, one of the better teams in the conference. The Nashville game also allows the ‘Dogs to play at home for three consecutive dates before going back on the road.
According to Coach Husband, his Bulldogs played much better in the second half against the Scrappers, especially on the boards. “We didn’t do a very good job rebounding. We were awful on the boards. We didn’t have a lot of flow or movement or energy. But for whatever reason, we got it going a little bit in the fourth [quarter],” he said.
“[Nashville] missed some shots and we quit letting them get second shots. Then that half-court bomb [three-pointer] by Evan Bartlett was a huge basket [at the end of the third period] and gave us a little life, and we were able to finish it off strong. I thought the second half our three seniors played like seniors,” said the coach, speaking of Stein, Ligon, and Bartlett.
Caleb Ligon won the opening tip at Greenwood’s H.B. Stewart Arena, but it was Russellville that scored first, hitting a three-pointer. Greenwood quickly tied the score and the two teams battled throughout the first period until Russellville ended the quarter the way they started it, with a three-pointer to take an 18-13 lead after eight minutes.
The visitors expanded their lead to 10 points at 26-16 less than two minutes into the stanza, but the Bulldogs responded with an 8-0 run to narrow the gap to 26-24 at the 3:22 mark. But that’s when the wheels came off for the home team, as the Cyclones roared back with an 8-0 run of their own, erasing the GHS rally, pushing the lead back to 10 points at 34-24. Russellville also ended the half with a 6-0 blitz for a 40-27 advantage at the intermission.
Unfortunately, the Bulldogs got no closer than 11 points in the second half, hitting the first bucket of the third quarter, a put back basket by Braden Stein after an offensive rebound. Russellville led by 17 points, 55-38, after 24 minutes before coasting to the 12-point win, 67-55.
The Cyclones’ largest lead was 23 points at 65-42 with about five minutes remaining before both head coaches began substituting freely. Yet despite being down by double digits, the scrappy Bulldogs were still diving on the floor and fighting for every loose ball, a testament to their desire and hustle.
Offensively, Greenwood was led by Sam Forbus with 13 points, followed by Braden Stein with 12. Caleb Ligon had eight points, as did Evan Bartlett. Junior Lance Marek added five points. Unfortunately, a more telling stat were the 18 turnovers given up by the Bulldogs.
"It probably wasn't a 12-point game. It just depends on how you look at it. But I think they're really good," Husband said, complimenting the talented Cyclones. "I think we probably played about as good as we've played in any game this season from start to finish, even with some of the mistakes we made. [But] I was proud of the way we competed.
"I thought we were extremely competitive,” he continued. “I thought we worked really hard, but you can't make that many mistakes and give them layups, dunks, and open threes. If you can ever eliminate that, then you give yourself a chance."
Husband said Russellville's athleticism and full court defensive pressure is not something his Bulldogs can duplicate in practice. "There were a lot of things we had to do well to compete in this game, [like] taking care of the ball and stopping their offensive rebounding. [But] we can’t emulate what they do in practice. There were times we handled [the pressure] pretty [well], but you have to see that type of pressure a lot to be good against it.
As for the general health of the GHS varsity boys’ program, Husband remains optimistic. "I think our overall program has gotten better as far as seventh through 12th grades. I think it's gotten better from top to bottom. We've got good teams at the seventh, eighth, and ninth grade levels with really strong records, and that's good.
"Our (junior varsity) team has done a really good job and they've got a winning record, and [the varsity] has been much more competitive in every game. So I think our kids have gotten better,” said the coach.
Last Tuesday, January 5th, the Bulldogs opened league play on the road at Greenbrier in Central Arkansas, falling to the Panthers in a low-scoring affair, 36-27. Neither team shot the ball well and both teams reached double digits in scoring in only one quarter. For Greenwood that was the opening stanza, giving the Bulldogs a 10-8 lead.
But Greenbrier won the second period, 8-4, and led 16-14 at the intermission. The Panthers then outscored the ‘Dogs 12-9 in the third quarter for a 28-23 advantage headed into the final eight minutes. But the GHS offense faltered again, netting just four points in the period as the Panthers pulled away for the nine-point victory. Sam Forbus scored 11 points for Greenwood, the only Bulldog to reach double figures.
Greenwood’s scheduled contest at home against Farmington on January 2nd was cancelled due to weather issues in Northwest Arkansas. It was to be the first time this season the GHS boys and girls played together at home, something that didn’t happen until this past Tuesday against Nashville.
Prior to the Farmington cancellation the ‘Dogs hosted the Fayetteville boys on December 30th, losing 67-49 to the Class 6A Purple Dogs. The game was very competitive except for the second quarter, when the visitors outscored Greenwood 22-10 to take a 30-17 halftime advantage. Fayetteville led 8-7 after the first eight minutes.
The Bulldogs scored 16 points in the third quarter, but the Purple Dogs duplicated their 22-point second period performance to add to their lead, 52-33. Greenwood narrowly won the final eight minutes, 16-15, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the non-conference loss.
Sam Forbus led the scoring for the home team with 16 points, most of that coming on three-pointers. Center Braden Stein added 13 points and guard Caleb Ligon had 11 points.