Tuesday, February 12, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Wildcats, Jonesboro dazzle in showdown

Leader sportswriter

A 30-point night from Thomas Alexander led the top-ranked Charging Wildcats to a 75-63 win over No. 2 Jonesboro in Friday’s much anticipated 7A/6A East Conference showdown at North Little Rock Arena.

North Little Rock (21-1, 10-0) led by as many as 18 points late in the third quarter, but by the 2:03 mark of the fourth, Jonesboro (20-4, 8-2) cut the margin down to six. After scrambling fora loose ball underneath the basket, senior reserve center Cameron Williams ended North Little Rock’s scoring drought with a two pointer inside the paint that pushed the lead back to eight.

Williams grabbed a defensive rebound on the Golden Hurricane’s next possession and set up a three pointer by Alexander with 1:23 to play that all but ended Jonesboro’s chance of a comeback.

“We just stepped up and made plays,” said North Little Rock coach Johnny Rice about his team. “I thought we played hard. I thought we did a pretty good job defensively on the half-court end. That’s something we’ve been working on a lot. I knew it was going to be an up-and-down game. It looked kind of scary for a little while when they came back after we were up 16, 18. But Jonesboro is a good team.”

The respective teams traded leads eight times in the first quarter, but North Little Rock was the team on top at the end of one, leading 17-15. Alexander scored North Little Rock’s first six points of the game.

The first field goal came on a layup after a steal at half court, and the next two field goals came on tip-ins.

“Coach told me at the beginning of the game that he wanted me to come out with a lot of energy, so I had to do it for him,” said Alexander. “Last game I had a tech, so I had to make up for it. I wanted to come out with energy, get on the ball and play great defense, and we got the win.”

Alexander’s 30 points led all scorers. He also grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds and blocked three shots. Eight of Alexander’s points came in the second quarter as NLR pushed its lead to 36-28 at halftime.

A basket by Gary Vines 21 seconds into the third quarter pushed the Charging Wildcats’ lead to double digits, but Jonesboro quickly cut it to six with a 4-0 run. Consecutive threes by Alexander and Dayshawn Watkins put the Wildcats back up double digits, leading 44-32. NLR built on its lead from there.

With about two and a half minutes to play in the period, North Little Rock led 54-36. But Jonesboro closed the quarter with a 5-0 run, capped off by a baseline three pointer by Malcolm Lockhart with less than a second on the game clock, which trimmed the Wildcat lead to 57-45.

Jonesboro slowly but surely chipped away at the lead in the final eight minutes. A bucket inside the paint by sophomore post player Aaron Washington made it a six-point game as the Wildcat lead dwindled to 68-62. Washington’s bucket forced Rice to call timeout with 2:03 to play.

After the timeout, Williams made his second field goal of the quarter and Alexander drained the three that sealed the win for North Little Rock. With 18.4 seconds on the clock, Vines made a pair of free throws to set the final score.

The Wildcats finished the game 27 of 51 from the floor (53 percent), 14 of 21 from the free-throw line (67 percent), and 7 of 16 from three-point range (44 percent). Jonesboro was 23 of 55 from the floor (42 percent), 15 of 29 from the charity stripe (52 percent), and 2 of 13 from beyond the arc (15 percent).

The Golden Hurricane finished with nine turnovers, with only three in the second half.

North Little Rock committed five more turnovers with 14, but was the better team on the boards with a 32-27 advantage.

Watkins finished second in scoring for North Little Rock with 15 points. He also had six assists. Vines and Kevaughn Allen scored nine apiece. Williams had eight. Kahron Ross led Jonesboro with 19 points.

North Little Rock continued conference play yesterday at home against Searcy and will travel to Marion on Friday.