Friday, January 13, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Buzzer beater lifts Badgers

Leader sports editor

In one of the team’s best performances of the year, and the most exciting boys’ game at Badger Arena in several years, the Beebe Badgers won their second-straight conference game 64-63 over Vilonia on Tuesday.

Down two with the ball for the last shot, Beebe point guard D’Andre Butler got inside Vilonia’s perimeter defense and penetrated to the free-throw line. The Eagles (8-6, 1-2) collapsed on him and he kicked out to senior Grant Brown on the left wing. Brown let fly with a second to go, and the shot went through as the buzzer sounded.

“I think this will help,” said Beebe coach Ryan Marshall in an interview on Thursday. “If we continue to put some wins up, maybe we’ll create some excitement and that’ll help with the crowds. We had a good crowd in this one and we gave them something to cheer about. I just hope we don’t go brain dead. They’re still strutting around here in high cotton today. But that’s all right as long as they get ready and play just as hard in the next one. They need to have some success.”

Playing hard is what Marshall says earned the win. Things didn’t look good early. Vilonia made seven 3-pointers in the first half and wasup 37-25 at halftime. Beebe senior K.J. O’Neill’s 14 points kept the Badgers within striking distance. Vilonia made sure O’Neill didn’t beat them in the second half, but several other players stepped up.

“Grant Jackson had a stretch there in the third and fourth quarter where he was just a totally different player,” Marshall said. “Grant Brown, that was his only basket of the night and he became the hero. That’s great for him being a senior. He shot it really well for us against Searcy, too.

“D’Andre had one boneheaded moment when he put up a shot with about 24 seconds left when we had the lead, but overall he had a really nice game. That last play, I don’t know if we have anyone else on our team that could’ve made that play to get inside and make that pass.”

Brad (Worthington) probably had his best all-around game of the year for the second game in a row. He had 24 points and 10 rebounds, and he fouled out with four minutes to go. Zeke Reddig came in and did a great job for us.”

Though he doesn’t contribute a lot of points in most games, including Tuesday, Marshall saved some of his highest praise for senior Landon Davis.

“Landon Davis is the glue to everything we do defensively,” Marshall said. “He doesn’t get talked about because he’s usually only going to score 4 or five points. But he guards the other team’s best player most of the time. He’s almost always out-sized, out-athleted, but he works hard and he overachieves. That’s kind of true for this whole bunch, and that’s what we’re looking for from them. Landon leads the way in doing that.”

Beebe took care of the basketball as well. Vilonia presses the entire game and often runs two five-man groups in and out.

Beebe doesn’t have that kind of depth and doesn’t play that kind of defense, but the Badgers forced 18 turnovers in their halfcourt offense while only committing eight against Vilonia’s pressure.

The second-half comeback was, perhaps, a clear turning point for the Badgers. Beebe (7-9, 2-1) started the season 1-4, and had the lead at halftime in all four losses. The Badgers played well but lost a pair of overtime games at the Morrilton tournament, and then slumped to three-straight losses over the Christmas break, including the conference opener at Greenbrier, a team they beat by 16 at Morrilton.

Overcoming a double-digit halftime deficit to beat a high-quality opponent may signal a milestone for the Badgers.

“What I’m so impressed with is how they fought,” Marshall said. “It was a winning mentality. This group, last year, if they’re down 12 at half, we’re getting beat by 20 or 30 points. They didn’t do that. They played with some purpose. I told them at half, let’s have it to 7 or 8 by the fourth quarter and just keep chipping away. Well it was tied halfway through the third. We defended really well and then executed. We made shots. But mostly because we played with a winning mentality.”

Beebe outscored Vilonia 22-5 in the third quarter and gave up just one field goal.

O’Neill was held to two points in the second half and finished with 16 to go with Worthington’s 24, but Jackson scored all 10 of his points in the second half.