Thursday, December 05, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke escapes Mayflower

Leader sportswriter

CONWAY – Lonoke got a scare from class 3A Mayflower at the end of Wednesday’s semifinal round of the St. Joseph Classic, but the Jackrabbits made just enough plays down the stretch to stay undefeated and win 63-58 and advance to the tournament championship game.

Lonoke (3-0) led by 13 points in the fourth quarter, but Mayflower (4-2) didn’t give in, and steadily chipped away at the Jackrabbits’ lead.

Back-to-back baskets by senior guard/forward Blake Mack put the Rabbits up 51-38 with 5:33 remaining in the fourth quarter, but by the 4:50 mark of the period, the Eagles trimmed Lonoke’s lead to 51-44 on back-to-back three-pointers by juniors Hayden Long and Drew Duncan.

Later in the quarter, in the game’s final minutes, Mayflower managed to cut the deficit to four on two separate occasions. But Lonoke senior shooting guard Darian Young answered with three-pointers on each ensuing possession to push the Jackrabbits’ lead back to seven each time.

Mayflower though, followed Young’s second three of that span with a 5-0 run to make it a two-point game, with Lonoke leading 57-55 with 1:30 to play. A loose ball foul near the one-minute mark put Mack on the free-throw line for a one-and-one opportunity, and Mack calmly drained both free throws to push the Rabbits’ lead to 59-55.

The Eagles failed to score on their next possession, and had to foul. That sent senior guard Tykel Gray to the line, and Gray made both free throws to make it 61-55 Lonoke with 16.8 seconds remaining.

Mayflower scored its final points less than seven seconds later on a baseline three-pointer by Duncan to make it a three-point game. The Jackrabbits successfully inbounded the ball to Gray, and in the waning seconds, Gray sealed the game and set the final score with two more clutch free throws.

“They made a good run,” said Lonoke coach Dean Campbell. “We made some mental mistakes. We weren’t very disciplined at times and that cost us. And (Mayflower) shot it well.”

Campbell obviously would have liked to have seen his team put Mayflower away much sooner and in less dramatic fashion. But even with Wednesday’s game being as close as it was, Lonoke is still unbeaten, and has managed to win its first three games despite not being together very long as a complete team with the school’s playoff run in football, and the recent Thanksgiving break cutting back on valuable practice time.

“You can only do so much in practice,” Campbell said. “We’ve had these guys about a week and a half, but it hasn’t been a straight week and a half of practice with the break and Thanksgiving. So we’re still learning on the go and we’re still trying to get some things fixed.”

Lonoke narrowly outpointed Mayflower 12-11 in the first quarter, but had a productive run in the second to go into halftime with a 33-21 lead. The Jackrabbits grabbed their largest lead at the 5:57 mark of the third quarter on Young’s first three-pointer of the second half, which put Lonoke up 36-19.

By the end of the quarter though, the Eagles cut the Rabbit lead to nine, with the score 45-36. Senior point guard Jamel Rankin put Lonoke back up double digits at the start of the fourth with a driving acrobatic layup. Mack followed Rankin’s bucket with his back-to-back baskets to make it 51-38 in Lonoke’s favor.

Lonoke got the win despite being outrebounded 27-21 by Mayflower. The Jackrabbits did win the turnover battle, as they forced 20 Eagle turnovers, 11 of which were takeaways. Lonoke finished with 13 turnovers.

The two teams were nearly identical at the free-throw and three-point lines, percentage-wise. Lonoke finished the game 9 of 15 from the charity stripe for 60 percent, and 6 of 16 from three-point range for 38 percent. Mayflower was 11 of 18 from the line for 61 percent, and 7 of 18 from beyond the arc for 39 percent.

Long led all scorers with 25 points, but Mack finished with a team-high 24 points. He also had seven rebounds, five steals and three blocks. Rankin finished with 15 points, four rebounds, six assists and three steals. Young scored 13, 11 of which came in the second half. Gray added eight.

The Jackrabbits advanced to the semifinal round of the invitational tournament by defeating class 5A Vilonia 59-43 on Tuesday.