The Conway basketball teams finished their back-to-back nights of key 7A-Central Conference games with a pair of victories over Little Rock Central on Friday night at Wampus Cat Arena, but that was no easy chore.
Fresh off an 11-point win against a tough North Little Rock team, the Wampus Cats held off a furious second-half run by the Tigers to take a 78-72 victory and pick up their 10th conference win in as many tries. The Lady Cats, who fell to top-ranked North Little Rock on Thursday, rebounded to take a 61-55 decision in an overtime thriller.
There are now two weeks worth of conference games left before state tournament play begins. Next up for the Conway teams is a trip to Bryant on Tuesday.
The Cats (19-2, 10-0) never trailed in the game, but it took a total-team effort to take down the feisty Tigers.
"We got some big minutes from a lot of guys," Conway coach James Bates said. "We knew we’d have to have everyone contribute, and I think we got that."
Leading 48-31 at halftime, what looked to be a comfortable lead for the Cats began to decrease. Central opened the third quarter with three quick baskets and got as close as 55-50 after a basket from Alandise Harris, who ended with a team-high 21 points.
Central, which entered the fourth trailing 58-50, got as close as two in the final period twice. The second instance came when Chukwukere Ekeh scored at the 1:39 mark the make the score 70-68.
"Their whole team gives us some trouble (matchup-wise)," Bates said. "They were much bigger (than expected). That kind of caught us off-guard."
But Kenyon McNeaill scored nine of his game-high 24 points in the final period to help the Cats hang on. When he wasn’t scoring, McNeaill was getting others involved.
"Kenyon kind of took over in the fourth quarter," Bates said. "... He played so hard. He just gutted it out after a tough game (Thursday)."
Free throws were a major part in the game as well. Conway finished 23-of-35, while the Tigers were just 8-of-31 from the line.
Micah Delph scored 13 points to go along with McNeaill’s 24. Preston Purifoy and Everett Reed had 12 and 10 points, respectively.
The Lady Cats were the ones left standing in Friday’s contest after Conway coach Janet Taylor referred to the game as the end of "a grueling two days."
Conway (15-7, 7-3) trailed the entire first quarter before scoring eight straight points in the second to take the lead. From there, the teams battled close the rest of the way, including to a 49-49 tie after regulation.
"I thought our kids fought hard," Taylor said. "It was tough after a tough loss to getting our kids refreshed. They did a good job of quickly preparing and having mental toughness."
Taylor Gault, who led the Lady Cats with 18 points, scored six points in the extra period to help Conway secure the win.
But a basket by Krista Robinson with 2:53 let in overtime broke a 51-51 tie, and a free throw from Gault and two more from Tamara Heard extended the lead to 56-51 with 1:32 left. The Lady Cats never trailed after that, as Gault scored the final five points for Conway.
"Central is very talented," Taylor said. "They create matchup problems. I thought we did a good job of overcoming that."
To go along with Gault’s 18, Heard finished with 16 points, while Jasmyn Wilkins added 14.
Shawnessi Arnold led the Lady Tigers with 19 points, and Jayla Tucker chipped in 13.