Friday, January 30, 2009

SPORTS>>Lonoke boys show up flat as Ricebirds take over first

Leader sports editor

Lonoke’s game with Stuttgart started 24 hours late due to bad weather on Tuesday.

But all indications were that the Jackrabbits never did show up for it. The Ricebirds completed a regular-season sweep of Lonoke with a 64-46 dismantling of the Jackrabbits on Wednesday night at Lonoke.

The loss in the battle for first in the 2-4A Conference dropped Lonoke to 6-3 (13-5 overall), while Stuttgart improved to 7-2.

“Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom,” said Lonoke head coach Wes Swift, who quietly watched his club go through the mo-tions against Stuttgart. “I kind of sensed that was what was going on. We had poor practices on Monday and Tuesday and that fed into the game.

“It was for first place, and you expect the kids to be ready. I probably learned a lesson last night. Every team is different. I obviously didn’t have them motivated.”

Leading scorer Clarence Harris was held scoreless on a night when the Jackrabbits made only 17 of 51 shots and launched 24 from beyond the arc. Only six of those went in. Their free throw woes continued, too, as they went 6 of 17 at the stripe.

But maybe the real disappointment for Swift was the continued defensive breakdowns. Swift had emphasized defensive commitment after the Jackrabbits gave up 63 points in back-to-back games two weeks ago. On Wednesday, Stuttgart ran past Lonoke all night long, making 18 lay-ups, 10 of which came on fast breaks off missed shots at the other end.

“How much talent does it take to get back down the floor?” Swift said. “All night long, they did that to us. I think they saw in our first meeting (a 49-48 Stuttgart victory) that our transition defense was a little slow.”

Those breakdowns led to 61 percent shooting for the Ricebirds, who made 25 of 41 shots. They also dominated the boards for a 31-24 rebounding advantage.

Despite making only 5 of their first 15 shots, the Jackrabbits trailed only 13-12 after one period. Lance Jackson’s two free throws with 5:25 left in the first half gave Lonoke it’s final lead of the night and Stuttgart took advantage of the Rabbits’ seven-minute scoring drought to launch a 15-0 run into the third period.

Michael Howard’s weave through the lane ended that run, but by then, Lonoke trailed 30-19. The Jackrabbits never got it back under 11 points. The lone bright spot was Dontrell Richard’s four second-half three-pointers. The first of those closed Stuttgart’s lead to 40-29 with 1:40 left in the third.

But it was Lonoke’s final hurrah as Stuttgart exploited the Jackrabbits’ defense for six consecutive easy baskets to put the game out of reach at 55-30 with 5:51 left in the game.

Stuttgart got big games from Cody Burnett, who led the way with 19 points, Glen King (17 points) and DeSean Osby (12 points).

Richard led Lonoke with 12 points, while Pierre Smith scored 11 and grabbed five rebounds. Howard added 10 points. Of Lonoke’s 17 field goals, only three had assists.

Post man Juice Lambert scored only three points, but he looked a lot more comfortable on the blocks in his fifth game back from injury. He made some nice post moves, but couldn’t get his shots to fall.

“He’s coming along a lot better,” Swift said. “We’re still trying to adjust our style of game to him. Without him, our guards are trying to get to the rim. We were throwing it in to him but then we were doing a lot of standing around on the perimeter. Stuttgart doubled down on Juice and he had no one to kick it back out to.”

Despite the fact that his Jackrabbits are continuing to search for senior leadership a year after winning the 4A state championship, Swift is conceding nothing.

“We are never going to give up,” he said. “We’re going to prepare for Southside (last night) and we’ll expect a much better effort. It’s never too late to start doing things right.”