Tuesday, January 03, 2012

SPORTS >> Wildcats stall for win over ’Rabbits

Leader sportswriter

The old fable of the tortoise and the hare came to life on the floor of Badger Sports Arena during Harding Academy’s 45-35 victory over Lonoke in the third-place game of the Beebe Christmas Classic basketball tournament on Friday.

The Wildcats (8-6) held a slim advantage throughout and built a nine-point lead in the third quarter only to see the Jackrabbits (9-4) pull to within four early in the fourth quarter. Lonoke had a significant speed advantage, but a number of fast-break transition opportunities went by the wayside with rushed passes and mid-court turnovers that benefited the more patient Wildcats.

“We felt like we could do that,” Harding Academy coach Brad Francis said. “At the same time, we didn’t want to give up some easy baskets, which we did, but I thought we got more with them sped up and giving up turnovers.”

Lane Dailey put momentum on the Wildcats’ side for good with a three-point basket at the 5:32 mark of the fourth quarter to increase the Harding Academy lead to 35-28. Dailey then went to the foul line less than a minute later and hit both ends to make it 37-28.

Darius McCall scored on a lay-in to cut it back to seven for Lonoke, and a miss by Dailey on the other side ended up in ’Rabbit Dustyn Perkins hands for an opportunity to set up a close finish. But the Jackrabbits did not capitalize, and Jordan Spears took it to the rim for the Wildcats to give them a 39-30 lead with 1:59 remaining.

“We talked at the beginning about not using this as an excuse, but we have some younger guys who haven’t played at that speed,” Lonoke coach Dean Campbell said. “Blake Mack, a sophomore for us, who has done some really good things – didn’t play last year. Yeah, at times, we’re trying to play faster, and hopefully, the more practice we get, that we will eventually be able to play at that speed.”

Dailey came up big for the Wildcats again with 1:31 left to play when he converted an HA steal at midcourt with a lay-up to put the advantage at 41-30.

“We made a couple of good runs,” Lonoke coach Dean Campbell said. “We’re still not mature enough to understand time and score and the flow of the game, and understand that if we made a run to really lock down and get a stop.

“These three games here, I thought we did a horrible job of rebounding. You can’t really sugarcoat it.”

Junior Will Francis led the Wildcats with 17 points and seven rebounds while Dailey added 11 points. For Lonoke, Mack led the way with 14 points while senior and team captain Tarrale Watson led all rebounding with eight boards.

The 5:30 starting time came just before the two championship games, and the near-empty arena made for a slow start from both teams, ultimately leading to a low final score between two solid shooting teams.

“This is a hard day for teams who aren’t in the championship game,” Francis said. “You’ve played hard for two games, and now, you’re just kind of pushing through, so we talked about coming out and getting the lead early. We felt like that was a big advantage.”

The Jackrabbits opened 4A-2 Conference play last night at home against Stuttgart, and will host Cave City on Friday.