SPORTS >>Coach’s strategy pays off on boards
Leader sports editor
With Hamburg enjoying a size advantage — both in terms of height and bulk — Lonoke head coach Wes Swift came up with a clever idea to try to match the Lions on the boardS. And it clearly worked. The Jackrabbits finished with a 38-29 edge on the boards, a statistic Swift said was critical. Senior Bradley Spencer collected 15 of those for Lonoke.
“We talked about coming in, that we had to compete with them on the boards,” Swift said. “Some how, some way, we out-rebounded them by nine.”
That ‘some how’ was to use the backside of Lonoke’s 1-2-2 zone to block out and to allow Spencer to slide down from the top of the zone for boards.
“We knew our guys on the backside were going to be outsized,” Swift said. “They didn’t have rebound responsibility. They had blockout responsibility. And Bradley was supposed to, hopefully, just gather in the boards. They did a great job of keeping the much bigger guys off the boards where we could go get it.”
EASY BASKETS HARD
Lonoke seemed to have little trouble getting penetration inside Hamburg’s 1-2-2 zone, especially in the first half. The problem was finishing. The Jackrabbits missed a slew of easy shots and had four others blocked by the bigger, bulkier Lions.
“I thought our shot selection was very good,” Swift said of Lonoke’s 7-of-26 first-half shooting performance. “They just wouldn’t go down.”
Eleven of Lonoke’s 19 first-half misses were listed as lay-ups in the stat sheet. The Jackrabbits reduced that number to five misses in the second half, and it was reflected in their field-goal percentage, which went up from 26 percent at halftime to 31 percent overall.
You might have thought the Jackrabbits would try to run some clock after taking a one-point lead in the final minutes of the game. And they did ... eventually. But they hardly played not to lose, a fact that didn’t bother Swift at all.
After Michael Howard had given Lonoke a 43-42 lead and Huntsville’s Nate Rhodes had missed a three-pointer with 1:31 left, Spencer got the rebound, raced downcourt and launched an unguarded 10-footer in the lane. He missed, but Huntsville missed a free throw at the other end.
Swift said he had no problem with Spencer’s shot.
“We have a spread offense we go to and we didn’t execute it very well,” he said “But I told them at the timeout that we wanted to continue playing aggressive. And [Spencer’s shot] was a good shot. It just didn’t go down, but I thought it was an aggressive play.”
With under a minute to play, and Lonoke clinging to a one-point lead, freshman Myles Taylor made a move along the left baseline that might have had his coach pulling his hair.
Taylor ran into Hamburg’s Quinton Pippen, sending Pippen to the floor and the ball over the end line. No foul was called and the ball was ruled to have gone off of Pippen’s foot, allowing Lonoke to maintain possession. With 37 seconds, Spencer went to the line and hit two free throws.
“That was a great call by the officials,” Swift said with a laugh afterward. “We were driving to the rim, still playing aggressively.
They slid over and, honestly, I thought we dribbled it off their foot.
“In close games, you have to have some breaks. You have to have some things go your way.”
Hamburg fired up quick threes the entire game, but they might have considered working for better looks with the title on the line in the final minute.
Down just one, Hamburg rushed a three 14 seconds into their possession with 1:31 left in the game.
The Lions ran just eight seconds off the clock before Rodney Brown missed a well-guarded three with 26 seconds still left in the game and Lonoke up only three.
Again with 14 seconds left and still trailing by only three points, Hamburg rushed a bad shot rather than work for a better look.
This time, Javarus Curtis shot an air ball while being hounded in the left corner.
“These are teenagers,” Swift said. “Anytime you get down, especially on this stage, the pressure gets to you. It’s happened to us in several of our close losses this year.”
Lonoke had played zone, by Swift’s estimate, in only four of the Jackrabbits’ 34 games entering the 4A championship on Thursday. Make that 5-of-35, and after the success of the 1-2-2/ 3-2 against Hamburg on Thursday, it might not be so rare next season.
“This win is a total credit to our defense,” said Swift, who was facing a bigger team in the Lions. “We’re majority man-to-man, but we’ve beaten a couple of good teams with what you saw today. We beat a really good Wynne team right before Christmas.
“I thought, physically, they outmatched us, and [the Lions] do such a good job of running their man-to-man offense that I thought we might try to surprise them a little bit. We had notions of going [to man] if we needed to. But they never really went on a big run to show that we needed to get out of the zone.”