Friday, January 02, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbits battle, can’t match WCH

Leader sportswriter

The Lonoke boys did all they could to defend their championship in the final of the second annual Goldfish Classic at the Gina Cox Center on Tuesday, but Class 5A Watson Chapel was too long, too athletic and too deep for the Jackrabbits to match up with, and because of that, the Wildcats won the tournament final 69-55.

Both teams entered the championship game with 2-0 records in the Classic, but unlike last year’s tournament final that featured the same two teams, Watson Chapel (12-2) was the clear favorite this time around, and for good reason.

The Wildcats had by far the most depth, skill, length and athleticism of any other team in the Classic, but Lonoke (5-7, 2-3) showed up ready to play.

The two teams traded buckets in the early goings of the first quarter and were tied at 7-7 before Watson Chapel closed the quarter with nine-straight points to lead 16-7.

In the second quarter, the Wildcats led by as much as 13, 20-7, but Lonoke went on an 8-2 run to cut its deficit back to single digits, trailing 22-15. However, Watson Chapel was able to push its lead back to double digits by halftime with the score 32-22.

Lonoke scrapped its way back within single digits of the WC lead in the early goings of the third quarter, but a long 3-pointer by Wildcat sharpshooter Leonard Robinson sparked a big run for the Wildcats, who led 51-33 at the end of the quarter.

Despite being down 18 points at the start of the fourth quarter, Lonoke refused to quit, and the Jackrabbits eventually scratched and clawed their way back within single digits of Watson Chapel’s lead.

Unfortunately for Lonoke, though, it could never get closer than eight points of the Wildcats’ lead, and by the end of the game, Watson Chapel pushed its lead to 16 till Lonoke’s Brenton Bryant scored with two seconds remaining to set the final score.

Even though Lonoke was unable to repeat in the Classic this year, Lonoke coach Dean Campbell has seen his team grow both individually and as a unit since beating Hazen by 12 points in the first game of the tournament last Saturday.

“That’s what these Christmas tournaments are for,” said Campbell. “I really think the last four or five days, from last week till now, I think we’ve grown tremendously.

“I think we’re starting to come together and understand a lot more about who we are and what we’re trying to get accomplished, and each guy knowing what their role is and their place and what they can do.

“We won’t see anybody all year as long and athletic as they (Watson Chapel) are, but that’s why you play these games and get these games in, and hoping that you play somebody that’s going to prepare you for the rest of the conference season.

“There’s no doubt I think they’re helping us to do that. I’m proud of my guys. They didn’t quit. I’m proud of the way they’re progressing, and the good thing is they understand that we still have work to do.”

Lonoke finished the Classic final 18 of 44 from the floor for 41 percent. Watson Chapel was 28 of 57 shooting for 49 percent. The much longer Wildcats outrebounded the Rabbits 34-19, and both teams committed 18 turnovers for the game.

Three different Wildcats scored in double figures with Robinson leading all scorers with 20 points. Brenton and Jawaun Bryant were the only Jackrabbits to score in double figures Tuesday. Brenton Bryant had 17 points and Jawaun Bryant had 11.

Lonoke got to the Classic final by beating fellow 4A-2 Conference member Stuttgart 48-43 Monday at LHS. The win avenged the Rabbits’ loss to the Ricebirds when the two teams met in a conference game earlier this season at Stuttgart.

The Rabbits led 7-6 at the end of the first quarter Monday, and 21-14 at halftime. Lonoke was outscored 17-10 in the third quarter to make it a tie ballgame at the start of the fourth, but the Rabbits outscored the Ricebirds 17-12 in the final frame to seal the win.

Jawaun Bryant led Lonoke in Monday’s game with 19 points. Nick Bates also scored in double figures for Lonoke in that game. He had 13 points.

Lonoke will resume conference play on Tuesday against Newport at home. That game will tip off after the girls’ game, which is scheduled to start at 6 p.m.