Saturday, January 19, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbits split a pair at Stuttgart

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke boys and girls teams split a pair of 4A-2 Conference games Thursday night at Stuttgart. Playing a makeup game that was postponed in early December due to much of Stuttgart’s team playing in the football state championship, the Lonoke boys got a 56-36 victory while the girls lost a 42-41 heartbreaker in overtime.

The boys were mired in a slow-paced game through two quarters, but the pace picked up dramatically in the second half. Stuttgart has struggled this season with a young team and a new coach, and tried to keep Lonoke from picking up early transition buckets. The Ricebirds came out in a 2-3 zone defense and Lonoke was patient with the ball. The Ricebirds were patient on offense as well, and it all led to a very low-scoring first quarter.

“We were guarding for pretty long stretches,” Lonoke coach Dean Campbell said. “I was proud of them for being able to guard that long. They were trying to be patient and run their stuff and we just moved our feet and did the things we were supposed to do.”

Lonoke held a 10-0 lead until Stuttgart finally scored on the last shot of the quarter. Things didn’t change much in the second quarter, but Campbell was still pleased with how his team performed.

“The first two quarters, I felt like even though we didn’t score a lot, we did things we’re supposed to do against a defense like that, and found open shots,” Campbell said.

The Jackrabbits took an 18-8 lead into intermission. They came out in the thirdquarter with a different tempo in mind and a plan to force it.

Lonoke’s pressure forced a few Stuttgart turnovers early in the third and the Jackrabbits built a 17-point lead. Stuttgart called timeout and that’s when Campbell says his team’s discipline waned a bit.

“I felt like after we jumped on them pretty good there in the third, we took a few too many chances defensively,” Campbell said. “We ended up giving them some open looks and some easy baskets. We did create a lot of turnovers, but once we did that we thought we could get them every time. They did a good job of taking advantage of that when they could.”

Stuttgart never seriously threatened to come back and win the game, but the head Jackrabbit would like to have seen his team put the Ricebirds away in the third.

“We still haven’t developed that killer instinct,” Campbell said. “We want to gamble too much and more times than not we end up letting teams climb back into it. Our stretches of playing fundamental basketball are getting longer. We are getting better and that’s good to see. You’re going to have peaks and valleys. We’re still working on making those valleys a lot shorter.”

Blake Mack led Lonoke with 13 points. Jamel Rankin scored 11 and Zach Risner added nine for the Jackrabbits (11-4, 5-1).

The Lady Jackrabbits (8-10, 2-4) led almost the entire game, but ended up needing a buzzer beater to send it to overtime. Stuttgart started the game in a spread out 2-3 zone and Lonoke attacked it well. The home team switched to a 1-3-1 and Lonoke had its best moments of the game.

“We really punished them when they went to the 1-3-1, so they got out of that,” Lonoke girls coach Nathan Morris said. “They finally went to a man defense in the fourth quarter and we didn’t do very well. I don’t know if we were tired, but we weren’t getting open. We weren’t setting very good screens and our guards weren’t looking for the screens. We were trying to fake our way open and it just wasn’t working.”

Lonoke led 12-6 after one quarter and 22-14 at halftime. Stuttgart cut the margin to two midway through the third, but Lonoke stretched back out to 30-22 by the start of the fourth. That’s when Stuttgart (9-6, 3-4) switched to man defense and outscored Lonoke 18-8 in the fourth quarter.

Lonoke sophomore Jasalyn Truelove hit a bucket at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime. Stuttgart’s offensive momentum stopped in its tracks in the overtime period. The Lady Ricebirds managed just two free throws the entire four minutes, but Lonoke got just one.

Truelove had two free throws with 2.6 seconds remaining in the extra period to tie or win the game, but missed them both.

“It’s easy to point at those two misses, but we were terrible from the line the whole game,” Morris said.

Lonoke went 9 of 24 from the line, including 1 of 10 in the second half and overtime.

“That’s the story right there,” Morris said. “Two more free throws anywhere and we win. We could’ve still shot less than 50 percent and won the game. But you make it hard on yourself when you hit 9 of 24.”

Kerasha Johnson led Lonoke with 14 points. Haley Johnson led Stuttgart with 16.

Lonoke played Clinton at home last night after The Leader deadlines and will turn around and host Stuttgart on Tuesday.