The Berryville Bobcats placed all five of their starters — Nate Allen, Landon Chester, J.D. Smith, Weston Teague and Jake Wilson — on the 4A-1 All-Conference team, coach Brent Compton said, while Chester and Teague also earned All-State recognition.
So close: Bobcats nearly end Magnolia’s 53-game streak
When the Berryville Bobcats stepped on the court for last Thursday’s second-round game of the Class 4A state tournament at Morrilton’s Devil Dog Arena, they believed they could beat top-ranked Magnolia and end the Panthers’ 53-game winning streak.
The Bobcats didn’t quite pull it off, but by the time they stepped off the court they had surely made believers out of everyone in the arena.
After trailing for most of the game, Magnolia scored six points in the final 49 seconds to beat Berryville 61-58 and advance to the state semifinals.
“We had ’em,” Berryville coach Brent Compton said. “It just slipped away from us there late.”
Berryville took its final lead of the game when sophomore Jake Wilson dropped in a three-pointer from the right wing to make it 58-55 with 1:27 left in the fourth quarter.
After Magnolia missed a three-pointer, Berryville senior J.D. Smith dove for a loose ball and Berryville gained possession on a jump ball. The Bobcats turned the ball over with 1:03 remaining, however. After another missed three-pointer by Magnolia, the Panthers’ Nevi Tell was fouled while grabbing an offensive rebound. Tell made two free throws with 48.6 seconds left to cut Berryville’s lead to one, then came up with a steal and a layup in traffic to put Magnolia ahead 59-58 with 36 seconds left.
The Panthers then forced another jump ball and regained possession. Adrien Walker sank two free throws with 29 seconds left to extend the lead to 61-58.
Berryville moved the ball into the frontcourt and called a timeout with 23.6 seconds left. The Bobcats then ran down the clock before getting the ball to senior J.D. Smith, whose three-pointer fell just short at the buzzer to keep Magnolia’s streak alive. Smith had hit a similar three-pointer with three seconds left in the first half to give Berryville a 30-26 lead.
Compton said the Bobcats were determined to play their style of game despite the opposition. Led by highly recruited guard Derrian Ford, now a junior, Magnolia won the Class 4A state championship in 2019 and shared the title last season when COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the state finals.
“The thing that we talked about, thinking back in the past, maybe a couple mistakes that we’ve made is in those games maybe not believing in ourselves and maybe being too conservative,” Compton said. “We decided in the locker room that we’re not going to take the floor unless we believe we can win. And secondly, we’re not going to be conservative. We’ll give it everything we have and play like we played all year and get up down the court just like any other team.”
All season long, the Bobcats relied on a balanced offensive attack and maximum effort and intensity on defense. Against Magnolia, that effort and intensity seemed to reach a new level as Berryville kept Ford and the other Panthers guards from driving to the basket and limited their fast-break opportunities.
“That’s what’s so special,” Compton said of the Bobcats’ effort. “They’re great kids, first and foremost, on and off the court, but they just they just play their hearts out. That definitely didn’t get them beat. That gave them a chance. And that’s what made them successful all year, is just how how hard they play. It just makes you proud.”
The Bobcats’ energy was embodied by junior Weston Teague, a 6-8 forward who finished with 20 points, 18 rebounds and 10 blocks. During one sequence late in the third quarter, Teague blocked two shots by Ford, then grabbed back-to-back offensive rebounds before scoring at the other end of the floor.
“Weston can be as good as he wants to be,” Compton said. “He’s got all the tools, all the ability. You can’t you can’t teach 6-8, 6-9 and all that length. He just affects the game on both ends of the floor. And hopefully that effort that he gave in that Magnolia game will be something that we see moving forward. Maybe he realizes his potential now. Not only him, the entire team, we stacked up against the best teams in the state was right there, so that hopefullywill raise our level not only just playing games, but through the off season in practice and everything.”
Teague’s basket after an offensive rebound with 5:34 remaining in the third quarter gave Berryville its largest lead of the game at 41-31. After a Magnolia timeout, the Panthers went on a 7-2 run to cut the Bobcats’ lead to 43-38. Another Teague putback made it 45-38, then Berryville senior guard Landon Chester followed a Magnolia basket by hitting two free throws with 23 seconds left in the quarter for a 47-40 lead.
Magnolia went on another run to open the fourth quarter, scoring eight consecutive points and taking its first lead of the second half on a three-point play by Tell that put the Panthers up 48-47.
Teague then drove for a basket despite being fouled to give Berryville a 49-48 lead with 6:16 left.
The lead changed hands six times over the next four minutes, capped by Wilson’s basket off a spin move in the lane that put Berryville ahead 55-54 with 2:31 left.
Ford made the second of two free throws with 1:50 remaining, setting the stage for Wilson’s go-ahead three-pointer and Magnolia’s game-winning run in the final minute.
“They really clamped down on us slate and started playing really physical on the ball, and that that got us,” Compton said. “If I’d had a couple more timeouts, I could have hopefully saved a couple of turnovers here or there. But we were down to the nitty-gritty on that, too. I couldn’t burn ’em every possession. A couple of times I could have called timeout, but I rolled the dice and it didn’t work out.”
Teague’s 20 points led Berryville (22-7), while Chester added 16 and Wilson had 15.
Ford had 21 hard-earned points for Magnolia, which went on to lose to Morrilton in a semifinal game on Saturday.
Berryville won its first-round game 53-33 over Southside Batesville on Tuesday, March 9, holding the Southerners to four points over a stretch of nearly 12 minutes of game time from the start of the second quarter. The Bobcats scored 20 points in that same span, turning a 10-8 deficit into a 28-14 lead.
“We felt like. honestly, we knew their stuff as well as they did,” Compton said. “And then we executed defending it during the game, and they had a hard time scoring on us.”
Chester made six-three pointers and led Berryville with 20 points. Smith added 12 points and Teague scored nine.
With three starters back next season and talented point guard Kade Davidson returning as a senior after missing most of this season with a broken leg, the future seems bright for the Bobcats.
“It does on paper,” Compton said, “but we can’t get complacent. We’ve got to stay healthy. There’s a lot of factors. Our chemistry this year couldn’t have been any better. If we can duplicate that chemistry and how the kids play together, I think the sky’s the limit. But you have to do your part and work and put yourself in position.”