FAYETTEVILLE -- Fayetteville never trailed, and the Bulldogs hit free throws down the stretch to pull away from visiting Russellville 69-63 on Tuesday night at Bulldog Arena.
"We've got a lot of youth out there walking through situations," Fayetteville Coach Brad Stamps said of his sophomore-laden team. "I thought we lost our composure there for a little bit, but the most important thing is we beat a really good, well-coached basketball team even when we weren't at our best.
"The beauty of nonconference play is that you see a little bit of everything. Film study is big for us, picking things up and seeing what we can get better at."
Sophomore Ornette Gaines was strong inside for Fayetteville, scoring 16 of his team-high 22 points in the lane.
"He's huge to our success," Stamps said. "He's a young man with his size and body, and with his athleticism, he's going to be a big player for us throughout the year."
Gaines played a large portion of the second half with four fouls.
"We started going offense-for-defense there to keep him available," Stamps said. "It was important that he made sure to play smart so he could stay there. He made some big plays for us even while in foul trouble."
The top three scorers for the Bulldogs were sophomores. Jadyn Haney posted 12 points and Nigel Armstrong came off the bench, hitting 3 three-pointers en route to an 11-point performance.
Fayetteville was 18 of 23 (78.2%) from the free-throw line. Gaines was 4 of 4 from the line in the final minute, cementing the Bulldogs' win.
"The importance of making free throws is something we talk about," Stamps said. "It's something we practice, and I felt like we were able to carry that over into the game tonight."
An upperclassman-heavy Russellville team made it close in the second half. After falling behind by 10 early in the third quarter, the Cyclones clawed within two points multiple times.
Each time the game got within a possession, Fayetteville answered with a score.
"Our three senior leaders were just unbelievable tonight," Russellville Coach Kyle Pennington said. "Through everything that happened with foul trouble and all, to keep the team together was just so impressive. They have played a lot of games, so they've been in these situations. It just speaks to their leadership how we hung in there and never got too down.
"We've got a heck of a basketball team. It's a team that will continue to grow. We wanted to put our team in a tough situation playing a bigger school on the road because we know that's what the state tournament's going to look like in Class 5A. We've got a really good conference, and so going through battles like this early and learning in nonconference is going to situate us well down the road."
Leading the way for the Cyclones was Donyae May, who scored a game-high 26 points, along with Grayson Sims' 17.