If there is such a thing as a Hall of Fame for Effort, it's a sure bet that the Izard County Consolidated Cougars would occupy at least one wing of that establishment based on their quarterfinal battle with the Marmaduke Greyhounds in the 19th annual George Kell Hall of Fame Classic Jan. 12 in Swifton.
The sixth-seeded Cougars (17-8), although they never enjoyed the lead in the game, put quite a scare into Marmaduke (18-9), the number three seed, before falling just a bit short at the end, 60-58.
Down by as many as 18 points midway into the third, the Cougars mounted a furious comeback that had the Greyhounds on the run.
If Marmaduke thought its 50-38 advantage after three periods of play was safe, they would have been advised to think again.
ICC opened the fourth on an 11-0 blitz that pulled the Cougs within a single digit, 50-49, at the 4:56 mark of the period.
Jesse Dockins (eight points) was the catalyst for this Cougar run, turning a pair of steals into four points during the sprintout. Dockins was in full playmaker mode on the evening, dishing out a game-high 14 assists against the Greyhounds.
While the Cougars were on fire late, the Greyhounds hit a lull and didn't manage a single field goal in the last period of play.
They did however, find luck at the charity stripe, hitting 10 free throws in the last five minutes of the game, including five straight to stop ICC's run and move Marmaduke in front 55-49 with 1:04 left to play.
Marmaduke's Neal Thrash hit a pair from the stripe with 23 seconds left that pushed the Greyhounds on top 59-53. Thrash was fortunate he had the chance to shoot free throws, as he swung a wicked elbow at Dockins' head when he was fouled, and very easily could have been tossed from the contest.
As it was, Justin Burns answered for his partner by canning a 3-ball with eight seconds left, pulling ICC to within three, 59-56. Burns had an impressive performance for the Cougars, breaking free for 24 points, including six treys. This performance helped Burns earn a place on the All-Kell Classic team.
Justin Ward then hit a free throw to make it a four-point game with five ticks on the clock, before James Morgan (five points) hit a layup at the buzzer that ended ICC's amazing comeback attempt two points shy, 60-58.
With the way the Cougars started out the game, falling behind 14-4 midway into the first period, thoughts of a late comeback had to be far from their minds at that point.
ICC did settle down in the first and Burns jacked a pair of triples that pulled his squad to within six, 19-13, after one.
Finishing what he started in the first, Burns opened the second with a 3-pointer and layup that edged the Cougars closer, down 22-18.
The Greyhounds cranked out seven straight points inside the last five minutes of the half to regain control before Jason Sherrell (13 points) stopped the Marmaduke binge with a baseline shot that saw ICC go to the half in a 34-21 hole.
This gulf deepened in the third before ICC managed to provide the seeds of a fourth-period rally with a nice finish to the third.
Michael Martin (eight points) buried a trey at the 1:30 mark, helping the Cougars close the frame on an 8-5 run.
This run carried into the fourth, but the Greyhounds regrouped late from the charity stripe to keep the upset-minded Cougars just a couple of points away from their goal.
Marmaduke continued on to the finals where they were beaten 63-53 by the Highland Rebels.