SPORTS>>Badgers win in dramatic style for title
Leader sports editor
Trailing by seven with 40 seconds left, Beebe was going to need a super-human effort.
Zach Kersey provided it. The senior guard, held to just five points until then, erupted for 11 points over the final 38 seconds, including the game-tying three and the game-winning free throws as the Badgers beat Lonoke 57-54 in dramatic, if controversial, fashion to capture the Christmas Classic at Badger Arena on Tuesday.
Lonoke (8-2) led 53-46 with 42 seconds left after Clarence Harris made one of two free throws, and seemed to have things well in hand, even after Kersey knocked down a pair of free throws four seconds later. Beebe’s Will Scott got a steal, but missed a three and Michael Howard made one of two free throws at the other end to push the lead to six with 24 seconds left.
But Kersey nailed a three-pointer with 14.3 seconds left, and after Howard missed two free throws a second later, Kersey tied it with another three from the top of the key with 6.7 seconds left.
Howard launched a mid-court shot that banged off the glass. Kersey rebounded it on the floor and Harris was whistled for a foul with less than a second remaining. Kersey made both charities and one of two technical-foul free throws to set the final margin.
“Amazing,” Beebe head coach Brian Martin said when told of Kersey’s 12 points in the final 55 seconds. “(Lonoke coach Wes Swift) had a great plan of taking Zach out of the game and making it hard for him to score. I told our guys, hey, we’ve got four other guys. “Zach was frustrated there. He missed some free throws, but I told him you never know when you’re going to have a chance to redeem yourself. He came through there at the end. Icouldn’t be more proud of him and the team as a whole.
There’s no quit in these guys.”
Swift, who clearly wasn’t too pleased with the foul call at the end, walked over to Martin while Kersey was shooting his four free throws and shook his hand.
“I’m not going to say anything,” Swift said. “They called a foul with one second to go. It doesn’t matter what I saw. We missed nine free throws in the last quarter. We did a great job on Zach Kersey for three quarters. Then in the last minute we give their best shooter two wide open looks.
“He’s a great player and he stepped up and made some great shots for them. Let’s just leave everything right there. We did not make the plays when we needed to and they did.”
Martin wasn’t entirely certain what happened in the final frantic seconds.
“I caught a glance at the end,” he said. “Zach gets the rebound in some traffic and the ref called a foul. We’ve been on the other end of that. I hate it for coach Swift and his guys. They played hard. Coach Swift and those guys are a great team and a great challenge for us.”
The defending 4A champion Jackrabbits struggled through a sluggish first half, getting only two points each from Harris and Howard. Still, they limped into the locker room trailing by just a bucket.
Lonoke took its first lead of the contest on Pierre Smith’s three-pointer to open the second half. Back to back threes by Dontrell Richard and Howard’s spin move had Lonoke up three at the end of three periods.
Scott kept Beebe (6-3) close with a drive through the lane, but Howard scored five points on the next trip down, scoring off a drive down the lane and drawing a foul. He missed the free throw but collected the rebound along the right wing and nailed a three-pointer as Lonoke surged to a 47-38 lead.
Two Trey Smith free throws and a pull-up 12-footer by Anthony Forte kept the Badgers close. The Jackrabbits began their fourth-quarter free throw woes by missing three in a row, but Harris made four straight to give Lonoke a 52-45 lead with 1:04 left.
Lonoke made 13 of 24 free throws. Beebe wasn’t a whole lot better at 19 of 28. But the Badgers hit 4 of 6 threes and out-rebounded the Rabbits 31-21. Kersey finished with 16 points and eight rebounds, while Scott added nine. Smith, Forte and Myles each chipped in with eight. Myles also grabbed eight rebounds.
“Win or lose that game, thought we fought like champions,” Martin said. “This will really build some confidence.”
The sentiment on the other side was almost the opposite.
“We’ve got some issues to work on as far as leadership goes on this team,” Swift said. “We’ll see where we go from here.”
Lonoke was led by Howard’s 13 points, three assists and three steals. Lance Jackson scored 12 points and Smith added 10. Richard had six points and seven rebounds.