Many things change game-to-game during a basketball season, but one thing remained a constant for the Conway boys basketball team.
A propensity for slow starts regularly put the Tigers in early holes before finally settling into games. More often than not, the squad’s sheer talent and ability allowed it to claw back into games — and in most cases, win them.
While it worked on 16 different occasions this season, rowing uphill finally sent Conway’s high hopes downstream Wednesday night.
A cold start from the field allowed Dutch Fork to sprint out to a 17-point first-half lead. Despite cutting the lead to as few as five points in the second half, the Tigers were never able to get over the hump, falling in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs to the Silver Foxes, 63-57.
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“As I told them in the days leading up to (Wednesday), this is the playoffs. You have to take everything up a notch,” said Conway boys basketball coach Michael Hopkins. “But we did one of the things you cannot afford to do, and that is spot good teams a lead in the first half. In the end, it wound up being too much for us to overcome.”
Early on, Dutch Fork set the tone on the boards, working hard for second and third opportunities — in most cases making them count. When the Silver Foxes were not winning on the inside, they were getting the ball to their guards on the outside, allowing their guards to knock down shots from deep range.
Still, after taking Dutch Fork’s best shots in the contest’s early stages, the Tigers found themselves well within striking distance at halftime due to a flurry in the final stages of the first half. The opening 16 minutes were punctuated by five quick points by guard Darren Stanley, and a Jaylen Moody 3-pointer to beat the buzzer to cut the Silver Foxes’ lead to eight, 31-23.
Throughout the second half, opportunities to further trim the Dutch Fork advantage were presented to Conway. However, mental errors, errant passes and lack of execution would prove to be the Tigers’ undoing.
According to Dutch Fork boys basketball coach Matt Brown, he figured his team would have to weather a storm or two during its trip to Conway.
“We knew this would be a game of runs … we’ve faced that type of thing all year,” Brown said. “It’s a credit to Conway, though. They could have folded, but they have a talented ball team and made some good plays down the stretch going into halftime.
“… But we have a lot of key pieces. We have a great bench, great post players. Our role players had to step up, though, and they did that (Wednesday night).”
Though standout Jordan Davis — earlier today named the Class 5A Player of the Year — reached double figures with 10 points, his impact was felt more as a complementary player, getting teammates involved rather than padding his own stats. Beneficiaries of his unselfish play were guards Deuce Dean and Bryce Cannon, who led the Silver Foxes with 14 and 12 points, respectively.
“Every team now is going to be good. If you lose, it’s your last game,” Brown said. “It was important our senior leadership showed itself, our point guard Deuce Dean and Bryson Cannon came up big for us.”
Conway’s Jimmy Nichols led all scorers with 16 points. He was joined in double figures by Timothy Steele, who knocked down three 3-pointers en route to scoring 13 points in a losing effort.
As a result, it would not be enough for the Tigers, though, who saw another promising campaign end way earlier than hoped. With the loss, it extended a dubious playoff drought for the program, which hasn’t won a postseason contest since the 1993-94 season.
While not focusing on the past — or the present, for that matter — Hopkins is looking forward to what next year holds for the Tigers.
“It’s disappointing to not come out on top,” he said, “but now they have a taste of playoff basketball, and it will only help them in years to come.”
DF (63): Jordan Davis 10, Justen Chatman 6, Willie Dunbar 6, Deuce Dean 12, Bryson Cannon 14, Jonathan Taylor 3, Jaylen Glover 8, Joseph Vernau 2, Will Hancock 2.
CON (57): Juwan Moody 9, Darren Stanley 9, Timothy Steele 13, Jimmy Nichols 16, Jaylen Moody 8, Raiqwon O’Neal 1, Darren Grainger 1.
3-pointers: DF 4 (Cannon, Taylor, Glover 2), CON 6 (Ju. Moody, Stanley, Steele 3, Ja. Moody). Team fouls: DF 14, CON 18. Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: Ju. Moody (CON), 2.
Records: DF 17-8, CON 16-6