Tuesday, February 02, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> ’Rabbits roll past CAC in final frame

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke boys’ basketball team is riding a two-game winning streak with a pair of road victories on Friday and Monday.

Last Friday, the Jack-rabbits beat Stuttgart for the second time in three meetings this season and made it a conference split with a 59-40 final.

On Monday, they dominated the first and fourth quarters to beat Central Arkansas Christian 58-45 in North Little Rock.

Holding onto leads has been a problem for Lonoke (13-10, 6-8) this season, so coach Dean Campbell was glad to see his team pull away in the fourth quarter. He hopes it’s a sign that his squad has turned a corner.

“I think it was just us finally deciding we weren’t going to let it happen again,” said Campbell of losing a late lead. “They were conscious of it. During breaks they were talking about it and in the fourth quarter they went out and took control back.”

Lonoke had to take control back because it seized it in the first quarter and lost it in the second. The Jackrabbits led 7-0 less than a minute into the game, forcing a Mustang timeout. CAC scored first after the break, but Lonoke responded with another run, this time 10-0, to take a 17-2 lead with three minutes to go in the opening period.

But that margin was completely wiped away by halftime. Campbell subbed out after the second CAC timeout. The bench failed to score the rest of the quarter but still led 17-6 at the end of one period.

The starters also lost their rhythm after returning in the second period. They committed six turnovers and hit just 2 of 10 shot attempts after hitting more than 50 percent in the first quarter.

The Mustangs tied the game 21-21 on a 3-pointer by Ryan Gilbert, and Campbell called timeout with 10 seconds left in the half.

CAC went with full-court pressure after the timeout, but Lonoke’s Isaac Toney got the ball to Tyler Spencer in the right corner for a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Jackrabbits into the locker room with a 24-21 lead – a lead they would never relinquish.

The Mustangs pulled to within one point on several occasions in the third and early fourth periods before Lonoke took over. Kylan Branscomb’s second 3-point play of the quarter gave Lonoke a 32-28 lead and sparked an 8-2 run. But CAC scored the last four points of the third to go into the fourth still trailing by just three at 37-34.

CAC then scored first in the fourth to pull within one point again, but responded with another big run. Haven Hunter’s 3-pointer with 6:10 left in the game gave Lonoke a 45-36 lead and forced another Mustang timeout. But the break didn’t help the home team this time.

Lonoke got a stop and Hunter penetrated for a floater in the lane that made the score 47-36. Lonoke then got a steal in the back court and Branscomb followed a Jawaun Bryant miss in transition for a 13-point lead that forced CAC’s final timeout.

Bryant later penetrated for another basket for a 51-36 lead with 3:25 remaining that seemed to be the nail in the Mustangs’ coffin.

CAC resorted to fouling to try and extend the game, but Lonoke made 8 of 9 free-throw attempts in the final three minutes.

“That was huge, too,” Campbell said of Lonoke’s free-throw shooting. The Jackrabbits missed their first two of the game, but made 12 straight after that before missing one with seconds remaining.

“We missed 19 free throws the last time we played and lost by one,” Campbell said. “That was a big turnaround.”

CAC’s previous win over Lonoke was just the team’s second of the season, but it sparked a seven-game win streak the Mustangs (8-12, 7-4) road into the second meeting, including a win over league-leading Riverview.

Lonoke dominated CAC on the boards, 30-17.

Bryant led Lonoke with 19 points and had seven rebounds. Branscomb had 15 points and nine rebounds and Hunter contributed 12 points and eight rebounds. Justin Meadows chipped in nine points, including 5 for 5 free-throw shooting in the fourth quarter.

Grant Wood led CAC with 12 points while three different Mustangs scored eight.

In Friday’s win, Lonoke took a 26-20 lead into halftime. The Jackrabbits gradually extended the lead to 37-28 in the third before outscoring the hosting Ricebirds 22-12 in the fourth quarter to set the final margin.

Bryant also led Lonoke in scoring at Stuttgart (9-11, 6-6), finishing with 19 points. Bryson Jackson added 13 and Branscomb scored 10.