After going toe-to-toe for 30 minutes in the second round of the 30th Annual North Arkansas Tournament in Harrison Jan. 7, it almost looked like neither the Viola Longhorns nor the Guy-Perkins Thunderbirds had enough gas left in their respective tanks to finish out the last two minutes of the game.
Multiple turnovers and breakdowns on the offensive end of the court by each squad late in the fourth period kept the game's outcome in doubt up to the buzzer, with the Longhorns getting a chance to have the final say.
Trailing 49-48, Viola's Dustin Shrable stripped the ball away from the T-Birds with 11 ticks left on the clock, giving the Longhorns an opportunity to take the game's final shot.
After a timeout, the Longhorns inbounded the ball and moved downcourt. Driving into the lane, Cory Batterton had the ball punched away in traffic. As it rolled to half court, Brett Cotter grabbed the ball and did the only thing he could, tossing it 30 feet toward the hoop. Cotter's heave came up short, but was snatched out of the air by Cody Hutson. Hutson tried to stick the ball in, but as the buzzer sounded, his attempt at a putback also fell short, leaving Guy-Perkins with a tight 49-48 victory.
"All you can ask for is an opportunity to win, which we had. We just didn't get it done," said Longhorn Head Coach Jeremy Lewis. "The determining factor was, we turned the ball over two times in the last minute of the game with a lead. You just can't do that against a good team like them and win."
The game figured to be a tussle from the start, with both teams tournament-tested heading into the North Ark.
The Longhorns (13-10), ranked number 10 in Class A hoops, had their sights at a Lyon College Tournament title derailed by Melbourne earlier in the season, while Guy-Perkins (19-3), semi-finalists from last year's state tourney, and currently ranked number six in Class A, were coming off a loss to Jessieville in the finals of the Arkansas Tech Tournament in Russellville.
The first period turned into an inside-out battle between the two teams.
The Longhorns pounded the ball in the paint to their big 6-9 post player, Dustin "Big Country" Jones, while the T-Birds played bombs-away from beyond the arc with Dylan Pierce.
While Jones posted nine of his game-high 26 points in the first period, Guy-Perkins answered with three treys in the frame from Pierce, but the T-Birds trailed 13-11 after one.
The second period got off to a slow start with each side throwing the ball away and missing point-blank shots in the early going, before Cotter busted Viola's first 3-ball of the game at the 4:20 point to put the Longhorns in front 16-13. Cotter connected on five treys for 15 points in the game.
The teams went to the halftime locker room with Viola holding a 21-20 lead.
Trailing for the biggest part of the first half, the T-Birds made their move early in the third period.
Switching defenses from a 1-3-1 zone to man-to-man full-court pressure, Guy-Perkins reeled off a 13-4 run to take the lead, 33-25, with 3:50 left in the third.
The Horns fought back with Jones doing the dirty work inside, and Cotter firing away from the perimeter. Cotter's trifecta just before the third period buzzer saw the Longhorns down by one, 38-37, after three.
"Jones played extremely well inside. We wanted to keep them from getting second chance points and hold them to 10 offensive boards or less. They ended up with 12, so I thought we did a good job there. Shrable had a good game on the boards with nine rebounds," Lewis said. "And Cotter started shooting the ball well, especially in the second half."
Cotter's last 3-ball of the game late in the fourth staked the lead back to Viola at 46-45 before a T-Bird layup erased the deficit, putting them on top 47-46 with 2:40 left to play.
A pair of free throws from Jones gave the Horns their last lead of the night at 48-47 with 2:02 on the clock, before the turnover problems set in.
After a T-Bird layup moved them back in front 49-48, Viola came up short on an answer, fumbling the ball away with 28 ticks on the clock, forcing them to foul.
Guy-Perkins' Tyler Massey missed the front end of a one-and-one, but the T-Birds snagged the rebound.
Shrable (three points) kept Viola from having to foul again by stealing the ball with 11 seconds left to set the Longhorns up for a shot at the win.
"We had Cotter take the ball out of bounds, and we wanted to get it back to him for a shot if he was open, but they had him covered," Lewis said. "The next plan was for Batterton to drive and kick it out, but they knocked it loose. And then we had one last chance at it, but it just didn't happen."
So on this night Viola came up a little short of victory, and the T-Birds came away from the battle of two of the top teams in Class A.
"With the kind of athletes they've got, it's no problem for them to put up 70 or 80 points a night," said Lewis. "We wanted to control the tempo, which we did. By holding them to 49 points, I thought we should have won, especially coming back from nine down in the third, but we just couldn't get over the hump."