Tuesday, December 30, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbits win after early lull

Leader sportswriter

Lonoke overcame a poor first half to beat Class 2A Hazen by the final score of 60-48 in the first round of the second annual Goldfish Classic on Saturday at the Gina Cox Center.

Lonoke (4-6, 2-3), who won last year’s tournament; granted, with an entirely different team, struggled throughout the first half, but especially in the first quarter. The Jackrabbits missed their first five shots of the game and went just 1 for 13 from the floor in the opening quarter.

As a result of the poor shooting, Hazen (1-1), who because of advancing to the state finals in football had played just one game this season prior to Saturday, led 11-3 at the end of the first quarter.

“That’s kind of been our deal all year long,” said Lonoke coach Dean Campbell of his team’s slow start, “and some of that didn’t change throughout the whole game. We still got to the rim and took shots that we wanted to take, shots that we practice, and they’re still not going down at a pace as quick as we like.”

Lonoke did a better job of hitting its shots in the second quarter, but still trailed by five at halftime, with the score 29-24. In the second half, Lonoke made 9 of 29 shots, but the biggest difference was at the free-throw line.

Neither team shot well from the stripe, but the Jackrabbits earned far more trips to the line than the Hornets did, especially in the second half. Lonoke made 18 of 35 free-throw attempts in quarters three and four, while Hazen made just 1 of 7 attempts in that time.

Lonoke made several key free throws in the final minutes of the game that helped seal the win – something Campbell was happy to see.

“I thought we did a really good job of stepping up and hitting free throws,” Campbell said, “which we haven’t done. I’m proud of them for that. We took advantage of it.”

The Jackrabbits opened the second half with a 15-4 run to take a 39-33 lead. Junior guard Jawaun Bryant led that charge and set that margin with an inside bucket at the 2:30 mark of the third quarter, which forced Hazen coach Jesse McCoy to call timeout.

After the timeout, Hazen scored six-straight to tie the game at 33, but Lonoke took a 41-39 lead into the fourth quarter on a fast-break layup by Bryant with one second remaining.

The score was knotted up at 43-43 early in the fourth, but Lonoke began to take over from there. The Jackrabbits went on an 11-2 run to lead 54-45, and the highlight of the game took place during that run.

At the midway point of the quarter, Lonoke junior guard Justin Meadows grabbed a rebound after a missed Hazen free throw. Meadows then pushed the ball up the floor and finished at the other end with a posterizing dunk over two Hazen defenders, which ignited the home crowd and gave Lonoke a 51-45 lead.

Lonoke grabbed its first double-digit lead with 55.7 seconds to play on a pair of free throws by Haven Hunter that made the score 57-47. The Rabbits led by as much as 13 before Hazen sank a free throw with four seconds to play, setting the final score.

Lonoke finished the game 17 of 54 from the floor for 31 percent. Hazen made 18 of 42 shots for 43 percent. At the free-throw line, the Rabbits made 25 of 45 shots for 56 percent. Hazen went 10 for 24 from the stripe for 42 percent.

The Hornets outrebounded the Rabbits 33-28, but Lonoke won the turnover battle 14-27.

Bryant led all scorers with 17 points, 15 of which came in the second half. Meadows and Isaac Toney also scored in double figures for Lonoke. Meadows had 11 points and Toney had 10.

Lonoke played fellow 4A-2 Conference member Stuttgart in the semifinals of the tournament Monday night after deadlines, and the Rabbits played their final game of the tournament yesterday. Look for details of those games in Saturday’s edition of The Leader.