Erynn Barnum put on quite a show in the fourth quarter for Little Rock Central on Friday night.
Barnum, a 6-1 post, dominated the paint in scoring 20 of her 24 points in the final period to lead the Lady Tigers to a tumultuous, 67-61 victory over Conway at Buzz Bolding Arena. Helping foul out Conway post Fut’ra Banks in the process, Barnum fueled a 10-0 run that resulted in Central’s decisive cushion after the game was tied at 50 with 4:24 left.
The victory clinched second place in 7A Central for the Lady Tigers while Conway remained in fourth place a game behind Fort Smith Northside.
“It came down to size,” said Conway coach Ashley Nance. “They are hard for us to match up against or anybody to because they are probably the tallest team in the state. We didn’t get the rebounds when we needed to.”
The Lady Cats also missed four point-blank shots in the final 3:27, a couple of them altered by Central’s inside players. The Lady Tigers blocked five shots.
The game, a rematch of last year’s state semifinal in which Conway rallied for last-second victory, took a turn on the wild side the second half.
Central rather methodically carved up Conway on the inside in taking a 36-23 halftime lead.
The Lady Cats began the game with a triangle-and-two defense on Central guards Jordan Greenwood and Bre’Amber Scott. They had to abandon that quickly after picking up five team fouls in fewer than two minutes at the beginning of the first quarter.
Conway went back to the gimmick defense in the third quarter and forced 11 straight scoreless possessions by the Lady Tigers in outscoring them, 16-1 in the perioid. The Lady Cats took a 39-37 lead going into the final quarter.
Tempers flared after a loose ball scramble that led to a jawing match late in the third quarter, resulting in technical fouls against a player on each team plus one each on Nance and Central coach Michael Green. With the technicals, both coaches had to remain seated the rest of the game or face ejection.
Nance said she was actually encouraged with what she saw after the Lady Cats trailed at the half.
“Most of the games we have lost against good teams, we have had the lead at halftime; this time we had to come back and we kept fighting and kept fighting and hit some big shots to take the lead,” she said. “I’m proud of these girls for the way we came back. The players saw tonight that we can come back and we can handle adversity and be right there until the end. We can see we can get in position to beat the best and that’s a good thing going into the state tournament in a week.”
In addition to Barnum’s 24 points, Central got 14 from Greenwood and 12 from Scott.
Jacie Higgins, who helped spark Conway’s third-quarter rally with baskets inside and outside, led Conway, with 18 points. Savannah Lowe, who helped the Lady Cats hang tough in the fourth quarter and played stifling defense on Greenwood, added 17. Aishya Smith had 10.
Central got hot from the field early, built a 30-20 lead at halftime and basically held serve in the second half on the way to a 30-20 victory.
Conway got no closer than eight points the second half.
“They are really good team when they are shooting well,” said Conway coach Will Johnson. “They can spread you out and they have three or four shooters, then they have a good big in the post. When they are shooting like that, they are hard to match up and beat. You’ve got to make shots against them and I didn’t think we played at our best, which you have to do against them.”
Kendarious Smith led Conway with 15 points and Gentrell Taylor added 11. Cameron Johnson scored 21 for Central.
Conway teams finished the regular season this week with games at Little Rock Catholic/Mount St. Mary and at home against Bryant.