Tuesday night was big for both Conway teams in the Buzz Bolding Arena as both boys and girls teams knocked off foe North Little Rock.
Both teams had to come back but it was perhaps the boys who put together a better effort against the Charging Wildcats.
Coming into the game, North Little Rock (13-4, 1-1 6A Central) was looked at as the No. 1 team in the state, especially coming off a state championship at the end of last season.
They showed it early on as it built sizeable advantages throughout the first half, going up by as many as 13 points with 2:43 left in the first half.
Conway (11-3, 2-0 6A Central) trimmed the lead down to nine by halftime, but it was the Wampus Cats’ second half effort that eventually won the game, leaving Buzz Bolding Arena with a 78-71 win.
Conway coach Salty Longing attributes that to switching up philosophies on the defensive end of the floor.
“I think we just switched to zone in the second half just to try something different,” he said. “We did a poor job of guarding them in the first half. They do such a great job. They are so patient and disciplined on offense that you’re going to have to sit down and guard them and we didn’t do a very good job of that in the first half.
“In the second half, we came out and changed to zone. We made a few shots and narrowed the gap and then we just played with a little more mojo and it got us going after that. Other than that, it was gutting through. I didn’t think it was our best game but we made enough shots to find a way to win.”
Conway began cutting the lead slowly but NLR kept frustrating the Wampus Cats but it was a late third quarter surge that helped Conway finally break through.
Down by eight with four minutes left in the third after an emphatic dunk by Charging Wildcat senior forward Collin Moore, the Wampus Cats began catching fire.
A 3-pointer by junior guard Caleb London cut the lead down to five before senior guard Kylen Milton had a rim-rocking dunk of his own brought the score within three.
After NLR senior forward Kylon McCollugh split free throws, a 3-pointer by Conway junior guard Trey Tull closed the gap within one.
McCollugh answered with a layup but it Conway scored five points to take its first lead of the game with 47.3 seconds left in the third.
However, a 3-pointer by Charging Wildcat sophomore DJ Smith gave NLR a 52-51 lead heading into the final frame.
The first minute and a half of the fourth quarter felt like a seesaw battle with both teams taking control of the lead before Conway senior forward Jakilyn Kaiser gave the Wampus Cats a 55-54 lead with 6:35 left in the game.
Conway never lost the lead for the rest of the game.
The Wampus Cats comeback was due in part to NLR turnovers and missed shots.
“We were hoping they would settle and take perimeter shots, which they did,” Longing said. “The problem was they usually got the rebound. That is something we are going to have to shore up in practice. Collin Moore absolutely destroyed us on the boards tonight. Our margin could have been much greater if we took care of business on the boards. But, we’ll take it anyway we can get it.”
Conway had several players reach double figures, led by senior guard Terry Clardy’s 15 points, followed by Kaiser’s 14, London’s 13, Tull’s 11 and Milton’s and Christian Williams’ 10.
North Little Rock 62
The girls game was similar in that Conway fell behind by 11 without scoring a basket in a rematch of last year’s state championship game before coach Ashley Hutchcraft called a timeout with 4:15 left in the first quarter.
The Lady Cats began waking up and ended the quarter tied at 15 with North Little Rock.
The second quarter became a back and forth battle before Conway started pulling away in the third quarter, led by a pair of seniors Asiyha Smith and Myia Yelder.
The fourth quarter was seemingly put out of reach because of those two as Yelder scored 20 of her 23 points in the second half.
Smith finished behind Yelder with 21 points.
“We are better when we are down,” Hutchcraft said. “We stay poised. We could be down 10 but we can win a quarter and keep plugging. That goes with the really good senior leadership we have.”
It was a big win for both Conway teams but both teams focus now on a road trip to Cabot on Friday.