FORT SMITH – Nearing the end of the first quarter Thursday at the 7A state tournament, heavily favored Conway found itself looking at a 27-15 deficit to upstart Fort Smith Northside.
But thanks to a big three of junior Preston Purifoy, senior Jarvis Garner and junior Kenyon McNeaill, the Wampus Cats didn't panic in the win or go home battle and roared back.
Purifoy had 25 points, Garner 17 points and 11 rebounds and McNeaill 13 points as Conway used a 17-2 run in the fourth quarter to down the Grizzlies 66-55 in quarterfinal action.
"We stayed together as a team and didn't get on each other," McNeaill said. "We stayed calm and really came out and got with it after halftime."
The win moved the Wampus Cats into a 1:30 p.m. semifinal on Saturday against the winner of Thursday's late game between Springdale and Rogers.
The biggest play of Thursday's game actually started the spree when Garner picked off a pass in the backcourt, posterized an unfortunate defender and added a free throw to tie it 51-51 with 5:44 left in the game.
"It was a big, big play that really gave us a lot of energy," McNeaill said. "We closed it on out strong from that point on."
Purifoy had 15 of his points after halftime, which came right after he picked up his third foul with three seconds left before intermission.
He was aggressively going to the basket and finished a whopping 15-of-17 from the free throw line in the contest.
"I just tried to get out there and make things happen, especially after we came out slow," Purifoy said.
McNeaill had 5 of his points in that game-deciding run, which happened after the Wampus Cats rallied from a 37-27 halftime deficit.
He is playing despite a knee injury that happened two weeks ago.
"My MCL is bruised really bad and the top of my shin has a little fracture in it, but I can stay away from surgery if I don't extend it and make it even worse," McNeaill said. "I was real scared when it happened because I thought it was my ACL and I might have been out for the year."
McNeaill doesn't have any offers yet, but is getting attention from Arkansas, Nebraska, Baylor and others with Cornhusker coach Doc Sadler in the stands to watch him and Purifoy on Thursday.
"Nebraska is really coming on for me," McNeaill said. "I also like Arkansas. I have interest in anybody right now who wants me to come play for them."
Purifoy, also without offers to this point, lists Missouri, UAB and Arkansas among schools showing interest.
"I am just trying to keep working hard and getting better every day and see what happens with recruiting," Purifoy said. "Really it's just about trying to get the next win and try to win the state title right now."
Conway sophomore guard Micha Delph, son of former Razorback Marvin Delph, had 6 points before fouling out.
O o o
In other boys action Thursday at the Class 7A state tournament, Springdale Har-Ber downed Van Buren 41-38.
In girls action, Rogers hammered Springdale Har-Ber 61-22, North Little Rock beat Bentonville 54-43 and Fort Smith Northside beat Van Buren.
Friday's slate has Fayetteville's girls meeting Little Rock Central at 4 and the Fayetteville boys playing Fort Smith Southside at 5:30.
Also playing Friday are Cabot and Fort Smith Northside's girls at 7 and Cabot and Har-Ber's boys at 8:30.
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