Friday, March 07, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbits hold off Apaches in playoffs

Leader sportswriter

Lonoke held off Pottsville’s second-half surge to escape the first round of the class 4A state basketball tournament with a narrow 66-64 win Thursday at the Gina Cox Center.

The Jackrabbits, who are this year’s class 4A state tournament hosts, led 18-15 at the end of the first quarter and pushed their lead to double digits by halftime, leading 33-23.

Lonoke (24-6) upped its lead to 13 with an and-1 by senior forward Blake Mack 11 seconds into the third quarter, but Pottsville (20-10), the defending state champion, steadily chipped away at the Jackrabbits’ lead from there.

Led by star guard Michael Perry, the Apaches quickly cut Lonoke’s lead to 40-35 by making their first five shots from the floor in the second half. The Jackrabbits maintained the lead heading into the fourth quarter, but a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Perry made it a 43-40 game, and gave the visitors the momentum.

Just six seconds into the fourth quarter, Perry drained another three to tie the game at 43 all, and Perry hit another 3-pointer at the 7:06 mark, which gave the Apaches their first lead since the start of the game. Perry, a two-sport standout, recently signed with Arkansas Tech to play both football and basketball.

“Michael’s a great player,” said Lonoke coach Dean Campbell of Perry. “He’s going to have a great career as a two-sport athlete there. He’ll be a great player there for both football and basketball.”

Shortly after Pottsville took the lead, Lonoke’s multi-sport standout athlete, Mack, got another and-1 to tie the game at 48-48 with 6:19 to play. And it was back and forth the rest of the way.

Lonoke re-grabbed the lead at 55-54 on a clutch 3-pointer from senior two-guard Darian Young, and tied the game at 57-57 on a two-handed slam by Mack after Mack got an offensive rebound with 2:41 left in the final quarter.

Mack gave Lonoke the lead for good with a free throw that gave the host team a 58-57 lead with 2:19 remaining. Mack made the first attempt, but missed the second. However, teammate Jamel Rankin got the offensive rebound and was fouled on the putback attempt.

Rankin made both free throws to give Lonoke a three-point cushion, leading 60-57. The Jackrabbits gained their largest lead of the quarter on a transition layup by Tykel Gray with 1:37 left, which made it a 62-57 ball game.

Two-straight buckets by Pottsville’s Travis Cole made it a 62-61 game with 31 ticks remaining, but Rankin added two more free throws to push Lonoke’s lead back to three with 22 seconds to play.

Gray forced a Perry turnover on the Apaches’ ensuing possession, and he was immediately fouled with 10.6 seconds remaining. Gray missed the first attempt, but calmly drained the second to give the Rabbits a 65-61 advantage.

Perry got away with a traveling call before pulling up and nailing another three, this one from the top of the perimeter, which cut the Lonoke lead to 65-64 with 4 seconds left. The Jackrabbits successfully inbounded the ball to Rankin, who was fouled with 2.2 seconds left.

Rankin missed the first attempt, but made the second to set the final score. Perry put up a shot from Lonoke’s side of the court following the inbound pass, but time had expired before the ball left his hands, plus it fell far short, giving Lonoke the hard-fought win.

“We just finally ran out of time, which was great,” Campbell said. “We hit some free throws. We didn’t shoot it as well from the free-throw line down the stretch as I wanted to. We had been doing that, but I’m proud of our guys for gathering themselves and overcoming the hype of the game.

“They’ve never experienced the first game of state and with it being at our place, the adrenaline was through the roof. I told our guys, ‘you’re going to get winded earlier because of the adrenaline. Fight through it, know that it’s not that you’re out of shape and don’t panic. Just get through it the best you can, fight hard’ and our guys did that.”

Rankin finished with a team-high 24 points. Mack scored 21 and had nine rebounds, four steals and two blocks. Young had 12 points on four threes.

Perry led all scorers with 39 points.

Lonoke played South No. 1 seed Central Arkansas Christian in the second round of the class 4A state playoffs last night at the Gina Cox Center after deadlines. Look for details of that matchup in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader.