SPORTS >>Rabbits hold off Stuttgart
By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor
The Lonoke Jackrabbits blew a big lead, but came away with a 55-52 overtime win over Stuttgart Thursday night in the semfinal round of the 4A-2 district tournament in Bald Knob.
Lonoke coach Wes Swift downplayed losing a 15-point lead and having to rally to tie it by the end of regulation.
“I’m not worried about that at all,” Swift said. “At this point in the season, the name of the game is win and advance. That’s it.”
Stuttgart was possibly the hottest team in the tournament coming into the game after hammering Batesville-Southside in the first round, and then running away with an easy upset over Newport in the quarterfinals.
After both teams struggled to score through the first half of the first quarter, Lonoke appeared to be putting an emphatic and sudden end to the Ricebirds’ hot streak.
Lonoke’s first bucket didn’t come until 1:45 was left in the opening period, but it gave the Jackrabbits a two-point lead. They finished the quarter up 10-2, and 16-2 just two minutes into the second.
The lead grew to as much as 19-4, but Stuttgart finished the second with a 9-4 run to make it 23-13 at the half.
Stuttgart post player Reggie Smith sat much of the first quarter with two fouls, but dominated the boards in the second quarter, and began scoring in the third to get the Ricebirds back into the game.
Helping open things up for Smith was the six three pointers Stuttgart hit in the second half. Many that were missed were rebounded by Smith. He sailed high above the rim for a rebound and massive dunk wth 7:40 left in regulation to give the Ricebirds their first lead of the game at 37-36.
The dunk ignited Stuttgart’s cheering section, but Lonoke’s Bradley Spencer quieted them quickly, getting a bucket plus one at the other end just seconds later.
Stuttgart answered with back-to-back three pointers to take a 42-39 lead with 4:53 remaining.
Spencer then hit two more free throws, but Stuttgart got another second-chance bucket, this time by Ray Henderson, to make 44-41. Stuttgart then hit a three pointer after a Lonoke turnover to give the Ricebirds their biggest lead at 47-41 with 2:58 left in regulation. They wouldn’t score again in regulation while Lonoke clawed back to tie it.
Senior point guard Kylon Boyd entered the game and immediately hit a three wth 2:40 left.
Stuttgart was then called for three seconds in the lane, but Lonoke failed to capitalize in the turnover.
Stuttgart called time, and Lonoke fouled to stop the clock. Stuttgart then missed the front end of a one-and-one with 40 seconds on the clock. Tyrone Dobbins got the rebound and threw the outlet pass to Spencer.
Spencer missed and got his own rebound, but it was then stripped. He was able to chase down the loose ball and found teammate Stanley Staggers. Staggers was quickly double teamed, and threw the ball back out to Boyd, who sank another three with 20 seconds on the clock to tie the game.
Lonoke instantly called timeout and set up in full-court pressure out of the break. Stuttgart didn’t handle it well. Spencer knocked the ball away at midcourt. Dobbins wound up with the loose ball and found Staggers,who missed a 15-footer at the buzzer, sending the game into overtime.
Lonoke instantly took command in the extra period. Dobbins got a steal and was fouled. He hit both free throws to give Lonoke its first lead since the seven-minute mark of the fourth quarter. After a missed Stuttgart three, Staggers got a driving bucket and a foul for a 52-47 lead with 2:36 left in the extra period.
Stuttgart’s Carrison Vaughn nailed a three to make it a two-point game with 1:49 left. After Lonoke missed three shots at the other end, Stuttgart’s Tevin Robinson hit two free throws to tie it with 1:18 left.
Spencer then made one of two foul shots, but Robinson threw the ball away at the other end. Boyd missed for Lonoke and Stuttgart’s Desean Osby was fouled on the rebound. He missed the front end of a one-and-one with 47 seconds left and Lonoke’s Brock Clement pulled down one of his four overtime rebounds.
Lonoke got the ball into Spencer’s hands, who was fouled and sent to the line. He hit both shots to set the final margin. Stuttgart got a look, but it wasn’t a good one and was way off the mark.
Clement only scored two points, but drew Swift’s praises after the game for his effort in overtime.
“He didn’t play much because I use him to sub for Stanley (Staggers) and Stanley was playing. That kind of made him the odd man out. But when I called on him he was huge. Those were some big rebounds that we needed because we had not done well on the boards at all.”
Spencer led all scorers with 18 points. Staggers finished with 15. Both players had five rebounds. Clement led the Jackrabbits on the boards with six in limited play. Smith led Stuttgart with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Lonoke improved to 20-7 and will tip-off against Marianna in the district title game at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.