The last boys semifinal game of the First Security John Stanton Wampus Cat Invitational came down to one shot.
Conway’s Micah Delph drained the game-winning 3-pointer from the right wing with 2.3 seconds left to lift the Wampus Cats over Jacksonville, 63-60, at Wampus Cat Arena. Delph, who ended third on the team in scoring with 13, was wide-open when he reached the top of his jumper. The reason Delph had slipped through the defense was because Preston Purifoy, who ended with a game-high 24 points, encountered a double-team attempt along the right sideline, and a third defender jumped a lane to keep the ball away from Conway’s other deadly weapon, Kenyon McNeaill, who finished with 14 points and six assists.
"That was a nice shot in the corner," Conway coach James Bates said. "They went to a zone trap, and we threw it away that first time down there. When we went down the sideline this time, we were able to make a play. It was a good look on the pass and a heck of a shot."
Purifoy put the Cats ahead, 59-58, at the 1:29 mark, after scoring on a layup and drawing the foul. After he made his free throw attempt, the Cats led 60-58. Jacksonville’s Deshaun McClure ended with a game-high 24 points.
"We knew that they shot like 78 percent at halftime, so we had to make sure that we stayed at home," Bates said. "The kids gutted it out. You have to give Jacksonville credit because they sure did play well."
Conway will square off with North Pulaski in today’s championship game.
The Lady Cats had more than enough answers against Alma in their 63-47 romp, setting up a Faulkner County showdown against Vilonia in today’s tournament title game.
One of Conway’s biggest answers was its smothering defense that forced 16 turnovers, and the other was Taylor Gault. Gault had her short pull-up jumper working for her against the Lady Airedales, while cashing in on a game-high 24 points, and she didn’t even see the floor in the fourth quarter.
"I thought our defense was just tremendous tonight, and they brought the energy that we were looking for," Conway coach Janet Taylor said. "I thought we did a good job of playing hard-nosed, man-to-man defense. I thought Taylor did a good job in the open floor, and that’s when she’s at her best. I thought her teammates did a heck of a job trying to find her and get her the ball."
Taylor continued, "This was the first time that we’ve played like a true team all year, with sharing the ball. Alma was great team and a great shooting team."
The Lady Cats (4-0) picked up 12 points from Meghan Lewis. Conway went on a run right before the half that kind of put the game out of reach. With a 37-27 lead midway through the second quarter, Gault came away with a steal and found Lauren McNeaill. McNeaill hit the layup, allowing the Lady Cats to press the ball on the inbounds pass. As a result of the press, Tamara Heard created a steal and McNeaill headed to the line after drawing a foul underneath the basket. After McNeaill made both free throw attempts, Conway’s lead was 41-27, with 2:15 left before the intermission. The Lady Cats forced another turnover on the ensuing possession, which led to an easy bucket by Gault.
"We’ll have all that we want (today) because Vilonia is a great team," Taylor said. "Vilonia won a state championship last year, and they don’t look any different. They’re a well-oiled machine, and they do a great job of taking care of the ball. So it should be a great championship game, and that’s what we hoped for. You couldn’t have asked for a better opponent from the same community."
NORTH PULASKI BOYS 55, FAYETTEVILLE 54
The Falcons deflected a final desperation shot at the buzzer to hold on for the win.
North Pulaski was led in scoring by Kyron Ware’s 19. Daquan Bryant and Aaron Cooper ended with 15 and 12 points, respectively.
The Bulldogs’ Taylor Cochran scored a game-high 21.