Tuesday, December 04, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Fast start is enough for Lonoke

Leader sportswriter

A second-half slowdown did not stop Lonoke in the big scheme of things as the Jackrabbits went on to defeat Hot Springs 72-56 in the third-place game of the Hot Springs invitational basketball tournament on Saturday.

The Jackrabbits (3-1) had a chance to reach the championship finals, leading Mills University Studies by seven points late in the second half of the semifinal game before losing by five. They almost had a repeat letdown against the host Trojans in Saturday’s game. Lonoke held a commanding 35-10 lead at halftime, but gave up 21 points to Hot Springs in the third quarter while only scoring 10. The Trojans cut the deficit as close as seven early in the fourth quarter before the ’Rabbits regained their composure for a final run.

“It was a tale of two halves for us,” Jackrabbits coach Dean Campbell said. “We played really well early, had intensity, and did everything we talk about every day. Third quarter, we’re up 25, and they got a little relaxed. We stopped guarding, started taking quick shots.

“Hot Springs didn’t quit. They could’ve easily given up, but they were able to cut it to seven on us.”

Blake Mack and Darian Young led the way offensively for Lonoke with 14 points each. Reid McKenzie added 12 points, Jamel Rankin added 11 and Zack Risner had eight points.

McKenzie, Lonoke’s senior post player, scored 10 of his points in the fourth quarter and went a perfect 6 for 6 from the free-throw line in that time.

“Reid played really well,” Campbell said. “We really didn’t go to him, but they tried to extend it so much, it left him one on one inside. People don’t expect post players to hit free throws like that, so we’re real proud of him.”

The late letdown against Mills prevented the Jack-rabbits from finishing the first full week of play unbeaten, but with important 4A-2 Conference home games against Dollarway and Southside Batesville over the course of the next week, Campbell said his group is in better shape heading into league play compared to a year ago.

“We’re defending extremely hard, and that makes me happy,” Campbell said. “We’re doing some things we were not able to do last year like guard continually, and we’ve got more people on the bench to contribute. We’re keeping up our defensive intensity, and the guys are understanding their roles and what’s expected of them. Once you get those roles defined, it helps everything else go smoother.”

Campbell also said the Hot Springs tourney served as a great tune up for conference.

“We played some teams real similar to what we’ll see in conference,” Campbell said. “We needed to see teams like Mills and Hot Springs that can get up and down the floor. It was a good tournament for us, and there were a lot of lessons to learn that I think will help us out down the road.”