Little Rock McClellan struggled to put away a feisty Beebe team through three quarters before taking over in the final eight minutes for a 47-32 victory over the Badgers in the championship game of the Badger Christmas Classic basketball tournament at Badger Sports Arena on Monday.
The Lions (6-5) had a distinct advantage in size and speed, but missed a number of easy looks inside during the first half. The Badgers (8-4) had nice inside performances from post players Zach Baker and Jared Gowen, who put up some of the best scoring and rebounding numbers of his career.
“One thing we talked about is the grind of the game,” Lions coach Chris Threatt said. “I thought over the course of the game we were a little more athletic. We had a nice little burst right there at the beginning of the fourth quarter that helped us.”
Tyrin Hollis made a three-point basket with 5:33 remaining to put McClellan up 34-25 before the Lions extended their lead with four more points off transition breaks, including a pair of free throws by footballstandout Akee Johnson that gave them a 36-25 lead.
“They have athleticism, and they made a little adjustment against our press,” Beebe coach Ryan Marshall said. “We just made some bad decisions and kind of hit the panic button, got away from defending drives and defending the way we were supposed to, and it just created more opportunities for them. I thought we battled there for a while, they’re just extremely quick and athletic.”
Beebe fed off the energy from the home crowd in the early going to claim a 6-2 lead.
Senior Austin Burroughs put the first points up before Baker scored twice inside, including an inside basket off an assist from junior point guard Tanner Chapman on an inbound play at the 4:20 mark.
Johnson fought back for McClellan later in the period with a couple of inside shots to give the Lions an 8-6 lead. The low scoring of the first half made every point count for McClellan as the Lions worked meticulously to build some kind of a cushion in the second quarter. They took a 19-16 lead at the 37-second mark when Johnson scored inside and made a free throw, but that lead was erased when senior guard Jake Schlenker made a three pointer at the buzzer for Beebe to tie the game at the half.
“I know from my experience that’s the kind of team you love to come to work to coach,” Threatt said of Beebe. “Because they’re going to do what you say; they’re not going to beat themselves. As a coach, all you can do is ask the kids to give 100 percent, and from what I’ve seen, that’s what those kids do.”
Gowen hung tough against McClellan big men Derrick Hardy and Kelechi Kingsley inside with nine points along with five rebounds and three steals. Five of those points came in the fourth quarter while a pair of Schlenker three-point baskets made up the remainder of Beebe’s scoring in the final period.
“I thought he played with such poise,” Marshall said. “He didn’t get rushed, and felt them on his back and which side he needed to go on. That’s huge for us going into conference to be able to step up and do that.”
Johnson led the Lions with 14 points while Hollis added nine for McClellan. For Beebe, Schlenker and Gowen led with nine points each while Burroughs finished with six and Baker had five points.
Beebe will begin 5A East Conference play at Blytheville on Friday.