Even in defeat, Zac Reynolds and his Riverside Rebel teammates put on what may go down as the greatest performance in the storied history of the Northeast Arkansas Invitational Tournament.
The Rebels entered their quarter-final contest against 3AA North Conference rival Marmaduke with only seven players in uniform. What was to come next is what legends are made of.
In a nip and tuck battle throughout the game, Riverside slowly began to lose players via the foul route. First, it was Tyler Timms fouling out, then Michael Lawrence soon followed his teammate to the bench, picking up his fifth foul midway through the fourth quarter. Then, with just over 2:00 remaining in regulation, 6'4" senior post player Zach Ridge was called for an over the back foul on a rebound attempt and suddenly the Rebels were down to only four players.
The Rebels could have packed it in at that point, but in actuality, the game was just beginning as Reynolds, a 6'2" senior guard loaded his teammates on his shoulders, bringing oohs and aahs from the Convocation Center crowd of around 3,500.
Despite being double and triple teamed, Reynolds was able to weave his way through the Greyhounds' traps, and with 29.6 seconds left was fouled. Reynolds made 1-2 free throws, giving the Rebels a 52-51 lead. After a Marmaduke miss, Reynolds was again fouled with 11.6 seconds, and again the senior made 1-2 free throws, giving Riverside a 53-51 lead. Marmaduke had one last chance to tie the game and send it into overtime, and that's exactly what they did as 6'3" senior John Clark grabbed an offensive rebound and scored just before the buzzer to send the game into extra minutes.
Riverside scored first in the first overtime when Reynolds scored and was fouled at the 3:41 mark. Reynolds made the free throw, completing the three point play, giving the Rebels a 56-53 lead. Marmaduke answered immediately when Clark drove inside for two points as the Rebels were forced to play a gimmick defense with only four players available.
With the score 56-55 Riverside, Reynolds again scored, was fouled and made his free throw and the Rebels were up four, 59-55, with 2:20 left. Justin Ward penetrated the depleted Riverside defense for a lay-up at the 2:00 mark, to cut the lead back to two, 59-57. Riverside's M.J. Emery was then fouled with 1:46 left and made 1-2 free throws as the Rebels went back up 60-57. Marmaduke answered again when Ward found an opening in the right corner and drilled a trey to knot the score at 60-60 with 1:25 left. After a Riverside miss, Marmaduke played for one last shot but missed two attempts and the game went into a second overtime.
Again it was Riverside scoring first in the second overtime, as Jordan Adcock made 1-2 free throws with 3:52 left to put the Rebels up 61-60. The Rebels got the ball back after a Greyhound miss and Reynolds again was fouled and went back to the line, hitting both free throws, giving Riverside a 63-60 lead with 3:12 left.
Neal Thrash countered for Marmaduke to pull the Hounds back to within one, 63-62, with 2:47 remaining before Reynolds, who at this point was using his inhaler to control his asthma after every break, sank two free shots, putting the Rebels back up by three, 65-62, at the 2:32 mark. The Rebels struck again as Reynolds was fouled by managed only 1-2 free throws, giving the Rebels their biggest lead, 66-62, with 2:01 to go.
Marmaduke got an inside basket from 6'7" senior Dane Boggs at the 1:35 mark to cut the lead to 66-64 before Reynolds scored the last two of his game high 45 points as he drove past the Marmaduke defense, laying it off the glass with 1:15 left, putting the Rebels up 68-64.
But that's when the clock struck midnight on the Cinderella story, as Clark drove for two with :59 left to make the score 68-66. Then came two critical calls, both going against the Rebels. First, Riverside was called for stepping out of bounds, a call Riverside Head Coach Buster Campbell argued against vehemently. This lead to a bucket by Ward with :45 seconds remaining, tying the game at 68-68. Then came the second critical call on a play away from the ball, as the Rebels were called for an illegal screen, giving the ball back to the Greyhounds. Marmaduke's Nathan Haynes was fouled with :33 seconds left, making 1-2 free throws to give the Greyhounds the lead for good, 69-68. After a Rebel turnover, Haynes was fouled again with : 23.8 seconds to go, again making 1-2 from the line for a 70-68 Greyhound lead.
Riverside then looked for Reynolds but couldn't find him, and turned the ball over with 10 seconds to go. The Rebels were forced to foul and Clark connected on both free shots with three seconds left and the Greyhounds escaped what would have been an embarrassing loss, 72-68, to advance to the semi-finals against East Poinsett County.
"I have never been more proud of a team," said Riverside Coach Buster Campbell. "I have been in this business 29 years, and have never been in a game like this one. It was the gutsiest performance I have ever seen. We actually had more chances to win the game, even though we were playing with four players, than we did to lose. We got two very tough calls in the second overtime that killed us.
"It was a great performance by Zac Reynolds. He just took the game over. I am so proud of the whole bunch. Each player had a hand in keeping us in the game. This could have been a fairy tale ending, but the clock struck midnight on us. Marmaduke got some stick backs that really hurt us when we got down to four players. My only complaint was that we had too many silly fouls early in the game that left us shorthanded. I told the kids after the game I was so proud of them and for them to walk out of here with their heads high. If we play like this the second half of the season, people better look out for us. We are beginning to pull together as a team."
"We got in trouble in the second quarter, losing our 11 point lead," said Marmaduke Coach Steve Richey. "Then we found ourselves in a dog fight. We had a chance to win the game in regulation at the free throw line and didn't do it, and I thought our kids had a let down when Riverside got down to four players. But give Riverside credit, Reynolds just took the game over despite us putting two players on him. You have to give him a lot of credit. He just took them on his back and carried them and we couldn't stop him. But you have to give our kids credit for pulling the game out at the end. I am just glad to survive this one."
"They were coming from everywhere, it seemed like, when it was five on four," said Zac Reynolds, who was named to the NEA Tournament team. "But we did a great job of holding the ball and they left our guard at the top of the key open and I was able to avoid the traps. Even though we lost, we are very excited because of the character we showed. This is the time last year where we got hot and only lost three games the rest of the way. Hopefully, we can do the same thing this year."
In addition to Reynolds' 45 points, which is the fifth highest total in NEA history, the Rebels got 10 points from Jordan Adcock, eight from Michael Lawrence, four from Zach Ridge and one from M.J. Emery. The Rebels were 18-25 from the charity stripe and hit six treys, all by Reynolds, who at times seemed as though he might not be able to continue but kept persevering until the final buzZer.
Marmaduke placed four players in double figures, led by Clark's 22 points. Boggs added 17 while Ward and Thrash scored 12 and 10 points respectively. The Greyhounds went to the line 36 times, connecting on 23 free throws.
Riverside won their first game by rolling over Delaplaine, 63-38. Jordan Adcock led the Rebels with 25 points, including three treys. Zach Ridge scored 13, Zac Reynolds had 10, Caleb McCluskey netted six, Tyler Timms contributed five, while M.J. Emery scored two to round out the Rebel attack. Riverside hit seven treys on the night and was 6-10 from the free throw stripe.
Jerrod Compton led Delaplaine with 10 points. The Indians were 11-23 from the free throw line and hit one three pointer.
Riverside led 17-8 after the first quarter, 32-19 at the half, and 46-33 entering the final frame before blowing the game open in the final quarter.
Riverside, now10-8 on the season, will return to action this week with two non-conference games. The Rebels will play Armorel on the road Tuesday night before hosting Brookland Friday night at Caraway.