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Russellville holds off Van Buren hoop squads in 5A-West opener

Leland Barclay
Special to the Times Record
Van Buren guard Jaiden Henry drives the perimeter as Russellville guard Hays Vines defends during the first period at the Clair Bates Arena in Van Buren, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. [AARON SHAFFER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES RECORD]

The Russellville Cyclones have owned the 5A-West the last two years.

If Tuesday’s performance in the conference opener is any indication, they may be on the way for a three-peat as champions.

Russellville scored 20 points in the first quarter and then fended off Van Buren for a 52-45 win at Clair Bates Arena.

The Lady Cyclones also won a close conference opener over the Lady Pointers, 42-41.

Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s 5A-West doubleheader:

Fast start

The Cyclones (7-3, 1-0) hit nine of their first 13 shots on Tuesday, including 8-of-12 field-goal tries in the opening quarter to jump out to a 20-8 lead.

“We came out with some fire,” said Russellville head coach Kyle Pennington. “We challenged them to make a statement, and we came out with that 20-point first quarter. We played really, really well.”

Four starters scored in the group effort to the blazing start for the two-time defending conference champions, led by Donyae May’s seven points. He scored in a variety of ways with a fast-break layup, a 3-pointer and a jumper to cap the 20-point quarter.

Van Buren point guard Avery Salisbury goes for the layup as Russellville guard Renard Allen III looks for a potential rebound during the first period at the Clair Bates Arena in Van Buren, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. [AARON SHAFFER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES RECORD]

Coming back

Russellville extended its lead to 30-17 at the half, but the Pointers (6-3, 0-1) got a lift at the buzzer on Jose Estrada’s offensive bucket after a missed 3-pointer by Avery Salisbury.

“I think without question, they went into halftime and we’re down only 13,” Van Buren coach Brad Autry said. “We had some success when I drew up the lob to our 5-(foot) 8 point guard at the end of the half. They got a lot of energy from that.”

After Russellville scored to open the third quarter, Van Buren scored 18 points to trim to get the Pointers within three, 38-35.

“They’re a good basketball team,” Autry said. “They’re talented guys. When they’re full force, I think they’re a really good team.

"I’m proud of how we battled against a very good team, but we have to find a way.”

Salisbury drilled a pair of 3's in the quarter and finished with a team-high 18 points. Connor Myers added three buckets in the quarter and finished with 15.

Van Buren opened the fourth quarter with successive buckets by Myers on a dish from Jaiden Henry, followed by another trey by Salisbury from the top of the key for a 40-38 lead with 5:56 remaining.

“Heck of a job by Coach Autry and his team,” Pennington said. “It was an excellent basketball game. We’re just excited to be playing during this.”

Van Buren forward Elizabeth Rainwater looks to pass the ball as Russellville guard Makayla Ealy defends during the fourth period at the Clair Bates Arena in Van Buren, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021.[AARON SHAFFER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES RECORD]

Undaunted performance

Russellville, with two returning starters from last season's team that went 13-1 in the 5A-West, answered with a 3-pointer by Grayson Sims that started the Cyclones on a 14-2 run after Van Buren took the lead.

“They took the lead late, and these guys have been in these situations,” Pennington said. “They knew that they’d make plays.

"What a shot by Grayson Sims to hit that three. What an unbelievable shot. I’m very proud of our basketball team.”

Van Buren’s only basket during that stretch was from Salisbury that had the Pointers within a point, 43-42, with 3:43 remaining.

May had two free throws down the stretch and finished with a game-high 20 points.


 
How Lady Cyclones won

Russellville also held on in the girls game against Van Buren.

The game was tied at one point in all three quarters and each team had a lead in all three quarters.

The Lady Cyclones (7-5, 1-0) broke a 30-30 tie on Jaidyn Koerdt’s long 3-pointer to end the third quarter and then opened the fourth quarter with a conventional three-point play by Taliegha Ealy as Russellville took the lead for good.

Elizabeth Rainwater, Brooklyn Kannady and Bailee Woodard hit 3-pointers for Van Buren (6-6, 0-1) in the final six minutes to keep the Lady Pointers close.

Van Buren point guard Brooklyn Kannady drives to the basket for a shot as Russellville guards Breanna Burk and Makayla Ealy defend during the fourth period at the Clair Bates Arena in Van Buren, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. [AARON SHAFFER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES RECORD]

Facts and figures

The Pointers did not commit a turnover in the second half on Tuesday. … The Cyclones are now 26-3 in the 5A-West over the last three years. … Rainwater narrowly missed a double-double for the Lady Pointers with nine points and 10 rebounds. … Rainwater, Kannady, Woodard and Allie Moss all hit 3-point baskets for Van Buren. … Russellville’s Taleigha Ealy had 15 points and 12 boards.

Boys

Russellville 52, Van Buren 45

Russellville 20 10 8 14 - 52

Van Buren 8 9 18 10 - 45

Russellville (7-3, 1-0): May 20, Sims 12, Allen 11, Brock 5, Jackson 4.

Van Buren (6-3, 0-1): Salisbury 18, Myers 15, Henry 5, Miller 5, Estrada 2.

Girls

Russellville 42, Van Buren 41

Russellville 13 8 12 9 - 42

Van Buren 14 7 9 11 - 41

Russellville (7-5, 1-0): Ealy 15, Koerdt 8, Handie 8, Burk 7, Velaquez 2, Campbell 2.

Van Buren (6-6, 0-1): Kannady 18, Woodard 9, Rainwater 9, Moss 3, Coleman 1, Harrington 1.