Friday, January 25, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke’s boys top Cardinals, take first

Leader sportswriter

It was business as usual in 2-4A Conference play for Lonoke on Tuesday as the Jackrabbits mopped up the floor with Stuttgart in a 66-31 mercy-ruled victory at the LHS gymnasium. It wasn’t business as usual on Thursday. The Jackrabbits toppled top-ranked Dollarway 59-55 on the road to snap the Cardinals’ 17-game winning streak and move into a tie for first place.

Junior Jamel Rankin scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Jackrabbits back from a nine-point deficit at the end of three. Lonoke went to a full-court trap and forced several turnovers, including four steals by Rankin.

Rankin finished with 26 points, with Blake Mack adding 13 and Reid McKenzie 10 for the Jackrabbits.

Dollarway (17-2, 9-1) holds the tiebreaker over the Jackrabbits by virtue of its 65-39 win over Lonoke in early December.

In Tuesday’s game, Lonoke (13-4, 8-1) marched out to a fast 7-0 lead and led by as much as 13-2 in the first quarter before Stuttgart came back early in the second period with a 9-2 run that briefly made it a game. The Jackrabbits shut out their guests over the final 3:13 of the first half while racking up 16 unanswered points to take a commanding 35-18 lead at the break.

The mercy rule was finally reached with mostly subs on the floor for Lonoke with 6:24 remaining when Zack Risner scored inside to give the Jackrabbits a 60-29 lead.

“We jumped on them early and then kind of relaxed,” Jackrabbits coach Dean Campbell said. “Against good teams, you can’t do that. It’s frustrating, but at the same time, we did some good things. We turned up the pressure in the second quarter and got some turnovers. We continue to try and work on our press a little bit.

“I wasn’t overly excited at halftime even though we had made a run. We do that way too much. We still have way too many valleys on our play.”

Some might rule a coach being so upset following a blowout win as slightly nit picky, but for Campbell, it’s all about staying focused on the big picture.

“It is, but we expect to try and make a run into the state tournament,” Campbell said. “If you don’t have extremely high expectations, it’s kind of hard to do that. All along, we’ve talked about it, and our expectations are a lot higher than they think they can really do at times.”

Junior guard Blake Mack did all the damage for Lonoke in the early going with a three-point basket to start the game, followed by three trips to the free-throw line that generated four more points to give the Jackrabbits a 7-0 lead with 5:54 remaining in the opening quarter. Mack hit another three to start the second quarter, and closed out the half in show-stopping fashion with a transition dunk with 33 seconds remaining on his way to a game-high 17 points.

“He does that,” Campbell said. “He plays in spurts and can score in bunches, but with what he does for us offensively, he has to improve defensively, because he could be unbelievable for us defensively. Once he matures into that role of being a defensive-minded guy, then all that other offensive stuff comes easier.”

The Ricebirds cut Lonoke’s lead to 19-17 with 3:45 left to play in the first half following a three-point basket for guard Kenneth Avery, but Risner got the Jackrabbits going on a scoring run that went unanswered for the remainder of the second quarter with a putback and a free throw, followed by a basket for Mack at the 2:49 mark that made it 24-17. Senior Dra Offord then hit his second three pointer of the night to put Lonoke back up by double digits.

Darrius McCall added a basket with 1:34 left in the half to make it 31-18, and hit another shot just before the buzzer for a 35-18 ’Rabbit lead at the break.

Lonoke shot 43 percent from the floor (22 of 51) and held the visiting Ricebirds to 25 percent (13 of 53).

Offord added 14 points for Lonoke while McCall finished with nine points and Risner seven. Risner, Mack and post player Reid McKenzie shared top-rebounding honors with six boards each. For Stuttgart, Avery led with 12 points while post player Chris Hooks finished with nine points and a game-high 10 rebounds.

The Jackrabbits played a Southside Batesville last night after deadline. They will take on Marianna at home on Tuesday. Lonoke won the first meeting with the Trojans 53-37.