Leader sports editor
They showed up for the showcase.
A near capacity crowd at Little Rock Hall’s George Cirks Gymnasium watched Searcy beat Sylvan Hills 73-68 in the Arkansas Hoops Challenge on Saturday.
The game was one of five featuring 10 teams in the showcase tournament designed to put Arkansas’ top college recruits and potential recruits on display.
That meant there were as many scouts and casual fans as partisans from the two schools, which led to an odd quiet for a game in which no team led by more than 10. But Ole Miss signee Jamal Jones, of Searcy, and major-college prospect Archie Goodwin, of Sylvan Hills, generated a little noise with a few resounding dunks and blocked shots.
“We told the guys ‘Archie is going to be a heck of a player but they have other guys out there that can play and Jamal or Archie are not going to win the game by themselves,’” Searcy coach Jim Summers said. “It’s going to be a team effort in what we do. We do so much stuff playing off the pressure Jamal takes and opens those other guys up.”
Goodwin and Jones helped put the show in the showcase, scoring 32 and 27 points, respectively, but there was no way they were going to steal all the attention.
Also on hand were Nebraska signee David Rivers, of host Hall, and Arkansas signees Aaron Ross, of Little Rock Parkview, Rashad Madden of East Poinsett Co. and Hunter Mickelson of Jonesboro Westside.
Arkansas coach John Pelphrey is calling his trio of high school signees “Triplets 2.0” in deference to late 1970s Razorback stars Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph.
Unsigned prospects included shooting guard Dusty Hannah of Pulaski Academy; forward Stetson Billings and sophomore guard Alex Howell of Strong-Huttig; 6-10 center Hooper Vint of Van Buren; Goodwin and senior forward Darion Griswold of Dumas.
All have competed in the all-star AAU programs, which put them and their high school teams on the radar for invitations to Saturday’s showcase.
The tournament came about partially through the cooperation of the high school coaches and Arkansas’ AAU guru Ron Crawford, sponsor of the acclaimed Arkansas Wings program that won the 17-and-under national championship at Orlando in the summer.
“All these kids. This is a great event,” Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis said. “Because if you’re coming, you get to see not only maybe the best of the best but also other kids who do an outstanding job and they work and they put all their time and effort into it and it presents a showcase for them to be seen.”
Though the individual names were the drawing card, coaches still had to make sure they got a team effort, and Summers was happy with the Lions’ output in the victory.
Each team proved it was more than a one-man show as Casey Wilmath scored 19 points for Searcy and Chris Blakley added 11 while Larry Ziegler scored 14 points for Sylvan Hills and Trey Smith had 11.
“I said, ‘That’s getting us ready for conference,’ ” said Summers, whose team plays in the rugged 6A-East. “With Parkview, Hall, Jacksonville — the one we play in — we need to see that kind of pressure and stuff. It was a good experience.”
Sylvan Hills plays in the 5A-Southeast.
Searcy survived losing Jones to fouls late in the game and a Sylvan Hills rally that cut a 10-point deficit to 68-66 when Goodwin got a steal and made a layup with 1:20 left in the game.
Goodwin followed up his miss to cut it to 71-68 with 20 seconds left, but Ziegler fouled Wilmath with 11.3 seconds left and Wilmath made both free throws. Goodwin missed Sylvan Hills’ last shot and Blakley rebounded and drew Goodwin’s fourth foul with 3.7 seconds to go, and though Blakley missed his free throw time ran out on Sylvan Hills.
“We were right in the ballgame at the end. I don’t think it ever got away from us,” Davis said.
“We had a chance for a couple big shots that didn’t go down for us; that was it.”
There were six ties and eight lead changes. Searcy took its biggest lead when Blakley scored to make it 52-42 with 11:12 left in the game, which was played under the two-half, collegiate format.
Jones committed his fourth foul and took a seat with 4:40 left, and Sylvan Hills took advantage, cutting a 65-58 deficit to 68-66.
“We came down and we took a couple quick shots and then they turned us over a couple times with that trap,” Summers said of Sylvan Hills’ halfcourt defense. “They started jumping in a half on that first pass and I think we had some guys up there that weren’t ready for it.
“Plus, once Jamal had to go to the bench, that changes us quite a bit. When you put a 6-8 out there he’s easy to find when people are trapping and it kind of alleviates a lot of problems.”