Blue Devils win in 1st Round playoff

AWM upends Springdale Har-Ber, 56-53

By Billy Woods WM School District

CABOT — Dylan Gazo was the marked man as soon as the ball was tipped here Wednesday in the first round of the Class 7A state tournament. As soon as Gazo, a West Memphis senior, entered the game early in the first quarter, Springdale Har-Ber’s bench screamed, “That’s him!” Gazo put the finishing touches on a 56-53 Blue Devil victory by sinking 6 of 6 free throws in the final 45.4 seconds. West Memphis (17-11) advances to play Bentonville and superstar senior guard Malik Monk tonight at 8:30 in the quarterfinals. Gazo’s shooting prowess, from the foul line and the three-point line surely preceded him from scouting tape that Har-Ber head coach Scott Bowlin scoured beforehand. “I shoot a lot of free throws at the end of every practice,” said Gazo, who was one of four West Memphians in double figures with 12 points. “I’m sure I shoot more free throws in practice than anybody else. I wasn’t thinking about anything but making them there..” Three-point shooting had been a staple of West Memphis’ run through the final month of the regular season, but on Wednesday it started ice cold, hitting only 1 of its first 8 from bonus range. But the Blue Devils timed it very well. After Har-Ber’s Matthew Kauntz swished a three-ball with 4:08 left in the game, it gave Springdale a 43-41 lead. On the ensuing trip down the floor, West Memphis senior Robert Harris, who led the Blue Devils with 13 points, calmly sank a trey to give back the lead to his team. Har-Ber’s Jayden Hampton then followed with a short jumper to give his team its last lead of the game. That’s because Gazo came down and canned a three-pointer to make it 47-45 Blue Devils. “(Assistant) Coach Marcus (Brown) tells me and Dylan to shoot the three anytime we’re open,” said Harris. “They tell me if I don’t shoot it they’re going to take me out..” Sophomore Zachary Byrd, anchoring a very small West Memphis frontline, hauled down 10 rebounds as the Blue Devils hammered Har-Ber 14-4 on the glass in the second half and 26-15 for the game, worked inside for a lay-up to give his team a 49-45 advantage. “I looked up one time and we had three very small guys on that back line and (Har-Ber) had a lot more size than us,” said West Memphis head coach Larry Bray. “Zach did a good job down there for us and we were able to communicate with each other and change some things up at times.” Leading just 49-48 with 1:01 left in the game, West Memphis’ Ahmere Albert split a pair of free throws and then the Blue Devils’ key defensive play of the night came when Har-Ber’s Hampton was called for a charge on the other end. That set the stage for Gazo’s heroics from the free-throw line. Har-Ber had to foul West Memphis three times just to get the Blue Devils in the bonus. Gazo was fouled with 45.4 seconds to play and neither of his shots touched rim. The two makes were vital, giving the Blue Devils a two-possession lead. Avery Benson of Har-Ber, the game’s high scorer with 20 points, made la three on the other end, but Gazo was fouled with 17.3 seconds to play for a 54-51 West Memphis cushion. Benson got a two on the other end and Gazo pumped in two more foul shots with 6.2 seconds to play and all the Blue Devils had to do was defend the three-pointer with Springdale having to go the distance of the floor. Har-Ber ninth-grader Tylor Perry, son of former Blue Devil Tim Perry, saw his contested three-ball bound off the rim at the buzzer. “Just a good win for Blue Devil basketball,” Bray added. “We didn’t have our shots working tonight, but good players find other ways to score.” West Memphis shot a .452 percentage from the field while Har-Ber canned 20 of 46 shots for a .434 percentage. But the Wildcats were 7 of 20 from the three-point arc. The Blue Devils won the game from the foul line, where they were 14 of 19 for a .736 percentage. Gazo was 9 for 9 for the contest at the charity stripe. Bray said his squad wouldn’t back down from Monk and the rest of his Bentonville teammates tonight. “I’ll go home tonight and look at some videos and try to figure out some way,” said Bray. “I think great players are going to get theirs. You just have to try and cut out some of the things other players do.” Albert added 11 points for the Blue Devils while Byrd had a double-double with 10 points to go with his 10 boards.

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