Saturday, March 01, 2008

SPORTS >> Jackrabbits head into semifinals

Leader sportswriter

DUMAS — A fan of slow-paced defensive struggles may have found it difficult to enjoy Friday night’s quarterfinal game between Lonoke and McGehee. The Jackrabbits held on for a 72-63 win in the high-octane contest to advance to today’s semifinals.

Lonoke improved to 28-5 on the year with the win, and moved into today’s semifinal round against the winner of last night’s late game between Arkansas Baptist and Newport.

Both halves were parallels, as Lonoke jumped out to sizeable leads in the first and third quarters, only to watch them dissapate during big Owl rallies in the second and fourth quarters.

Both teams’ high profiles players managed to cancel each other out for the most part, as Lonoke’s Bradley Spencer and McGehee’s Jesse Barnes went toe to toe for almost the duration. Each managed to contain the other fairly well, until the Owls were forced to foul Spencer late in the game to stop the clock.

Spencer finished with only two field goals, but went 10-of-15 at the foul line in the fourth quarter, and went 12-of-17 overall at the line to finish with 16 points.

“If anyone paid attention to that game, they would know that when Bradley was on number 30 (Barnes), he couldn’t score at all,” Lonoke coach Wes Swift said. “It’s been a week since we’ve played, but I thought we did a much better job offensively than defensively. We missed 22 free throws, which I’m not thrilled about, and we didn’t block out for rebounds well. I’m happy to win, and happy to be moving on to tomorrow.”

A basket by Clarence Harris at with 3:49 left to play gave the ’Rabbits their biggest lead of the game at 57-44, but the Owls renewed the three-point assault they seemed to have lost at intermission. Back-to-back goals by by Michael Curry cut the lead to seven by the 3:15 mark, and three pointers for Wille Hansburg and Josh Cheney in between trips to the line for Spencer kept it close until the final 15 seconds.

“We may have shot well in the first quarter,” Swift said, “but we have good guards, juniors and seniors. I will attribute some of our defensive breakdowns to being off for a week.”

Juniors Michael Nelson and Harris got the Jackrabbits off to a roaring start. The two combined for 14 points in the first quarter alone, including a pair of threes for Nelson, with three pointers by Harris and Tony Jackson to start the game.

Nelson’s trey at the 1:48 mark put Lonoke up 19-8, but The Owls took over to start the second quarter.

McGehee Sophomore Michael Curry almost single-handedly took the early momentum away from Lonoke starting at the 5:34 mark of the second quarter. Harris had just put in a third-try basket for the ‘Rabbits to make it 22-13 when Curry began his run. It started with a basket and free throw, followed by a steal that he took all the way for a layup at the 4:30 mark that cut Lonoke’s lead to four.

The Jackrabbits went nearly three minutes without a score during the middle stages of the second frame. In that time, Glenn Marshall pulled the Owls to within a single score, taking advantage of a backcourt violation by Spencer to score in the lane to make it a 22-20 game.

Myles Taylor finally broke the drought for Lonoke with a basket and free throw, and Spencer got his first points of the game at the 2:25 mark on a putback of his own miss to extend the lead back to five.

The Owls actually pulled back to within one, but a 32-footer by Howard in the final minute gave the ‘Rabbits a 30-26 lead at the half.

Howard led the Jackrabbits with 18 points. Spencer and Harris each added 16 points for Lonoke.