Tuesday, December 22, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke controls fourth

Leader sports editor

North Pulaski led at the end of the first three quarters, but Lonoke led at the end of the one that mattered most. The Jackrabbits clamped down on defense and dominated the fourth quarter for a 63-56 win Friday night at the Falcons’ Nest in Jacksonville.

The Jackrabbits gave up just two baskets in the entire fourth quarter, and none until just 1:29 remained in the game. It was the kind of defense Lonoke coach Dean Campbell thinks his team can play more often.

“We finally just started playing hard,” said Campbell. “That’s been our deal all year. We’ve talked about that. When we feel like there’s a sense of urgency, we play hard. But we don’t a lot of other times. That shouldn’t happen from a team that has mostly juniors and seniors. I think we’re learning that, but we have to be more consistent as far as playing hard. I hope we don’t fall into this idea that we can just play hard at the end and come through. It worked out that way tonight, but you can’t maintain that way.”

Lonoke actually controlled the action throughout the second half except for a four-minute stretch in the third quarter.

The Falcons led 29-26 at halftime, but Lonoke came out of the locker room with an 11-2 run to take a 37-31 lead three minutes into the third period, but North Pulaski answered with a 16-4 run to take a 47-41 lead with two minutes left in the same quarter. That’s when the Jackrabbits began shutting down the Falcons’ offense.

With 1:22 left in the third, Lonoke’s Jawaun Bryant hit a running floater to make it 47-43, and neither team scored again until the buzzer. North Pulaski forced a Lonoke turnover underneath the Jackrabbit basket with 10 seconds left, but NP’s Jermaine Lopez carried while walking the ball up the court unguarded. That gave Lonoke possession with five seconds to go, and Haven Hunter made his only shot attempt of the game, a 3-pointer at the buzzer that pulled Lonoke to within 47-46.

“Hunter stepped up and hit a big shot, but I think his big contribution tonight was he finally decided to actually guard the way he can, the way we’ve all known he can,” Campbell said.

The first three minutes of the fourth quarter was a trade-off of North Pulaski turnovers for Lonoke baskets, all by Yancey Cooney, who came off the bench to score a game-high 17 points.

North Pulaski managed three free throws to pull within 51-49 before Cooney scored again. Lopez got to the rim for the Falcons but missed a layup.

NP post player Christian White went high for the rebound, but came down off balance, fell and was called for traveling. Bryant then drove to the rim for a layup, Lopez walked and Cooney scored again for a 57-49 Lonoke lead with 4:00 left in the quarter.

North Pulaski point guard Braxton McKinney’s 3-point attempt bounced off the back of the rim and over the backboard for another turnover, and NP coach Roy Jackson called timeout with 3:35 remaining in the game.

The Falcons weren’t finished. Cooney was fouled and hit 1 of 2 free throws for a nine-point Lonoke lead, but the Falcons came back. Lopez and McKinney combined for three free throws and White got a putback that made it 58-54 with 1:29 remaining. 

Leon Brooks then scored on a layup after NP forced another turnover, and Campbell called timeout with his team up by just two with 1:10 left in the game.

His team did not allow another point.

Isaac Toney hit a layup, but the Jackrabbits fouled White shortly after. White missed the front end of a one-and-one with 41 seconds left, and Cooney was fouled 12 seconds later.

He made 1 of 2 for a 61-56 lead. Bryant then stole the ball and passed to Toney, who was fouled. He made both shots with 13 seconds left to set the final margin.

The Falcons hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter to take a 15-10 lead, and led by as much as 26-17 with 2:05 left in the first half.

“I’m proud of the way we fought through some adversity,” Campbell said. “Kylan (Branscomb) got in foul trouble and we continued getting the ball in the middle and stuck with what we were trying to do. Yancey played extremely well for us offensively, but really for him it started at the other end. It started when he was being physical and strong and grabbing a couple of boards.

“But we gave up 18 points in the third quarter, and almost all of it just in the last couple of minutes. We came out of half with some intensity, but when we got a little lead we let up again. We’ve got to see those things and learn from those things in order for us to be better in conference.”

Cooney went 6 for 6 from the floor and 5 of 7 from the foul line to lead all scorers. Branscomb added 15 despite not playing in the fourth quarter with foul trouble. Bryant added 10 for Lonoke.

Lopez and White led North Pulaski with 13 points each while Brooks scored 11 and McKinney 10.

Lonoke went 21 of 45 from the floor and 17 of 28 from the free-throw line while NP went 21 of 56 and 10 of 17. The Falcons outrebounded the Jackrabbits 28-21.