Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

SPORTS>>Jackrabbits race past Heber Springs

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

The Lonoke Jackrabbits did what jackrabbits do: run and then run some more.

After getting off to a sluggish start against Heber Springs, Lonoke was off to the races in an 84-63 win over the Panthers on Friday night at Lonoke. The Jackrabbits bounced back from a four-game span in which they lost three times, and improved to 10-4 overall, 3-2 in the 2-4A Conference.

The Jackrabbits trailed only once in the game at 2-0, but scored the next eight points on their way to a 22-6 lead early in the second period.

Though the ’Rabbits held Heber Springs to just nine points midway through the second quarter and 7 of 27 from the field in the first half, coach Wes Swift was far from pleased with his team’s defensive effort.

“Giving up 63 is not going to get it done,” Swift said. “We give up 63 to Marianna, then 63 against Heber Springs. I think I’ve had teams that haven’t given up that many points the whole season.

“Defense starts with ball pressure but we’re not containing the ball well and we’re not challenging passes. You don’t want guys driving by you. Our overall toughness is what I’m really not happy about. We just had a two-and-a-half hour practice and that’s all we worked on was defense.”

Lonoke was not shooting a whole lot better at 12 of 31, but the Jackrabbits finally found the range from the free-throw line, an area that has plagued them through much of the season. After missing five of their first six, Lonoke hit 14 of their next 15 to finish a respectable 19 of 28 for the game.

“A lot of (free-throw shooting) is between the kids’ ears,” Swift said. “A lot of it is focus, understanding that that point is important. We’re just kind of a nonchalant team right now. We don’t have much focus. We’re struggling.”

The Jackrabbits maintained a 20- to 25-point lead throughout most of the third quarter. It reached 60-35 on Darius Scott’s steal and lay-up with 2:15 left in the third. An 11-2 Heber Springs run narrowed the gap to 16 early in the final period, but Lonoke merely turned it into overdrive at that point, getting fast-break baskets by Michael Howard and Trenton Spencer, a drive and basket by Howard and an end-to-end breakaway by Lance Jackson to push the lead back to 24.

The game was played at a frantic pace from the start, which played into Lonoke’s much deeper bench. Nine Jackrabbits scored in the first half. Eight players scored six points or more and four reached double figures in the game. Despite the frantic pace, the Rabbits committed only 10 turnovers.

Clarence Harris led the way with 14 points and added three blocked shots. Spencer added 13 points, two assists and two steals. Howard had 12 points, six boards and four assists and Jackson had 10 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals.

“I thought we shared the ball a little better,” Swift said. “And I’m not disappointed with 84 points. I’ll take 10 turnovers at the pace we play at.”

Tyler Gibbs had eight points, while Pierre Smith added seven points. Mike Jones scored seven points and grabbed six rebounds.

Lonoke warmed up significantly in the second half, thanks primarily to a slew of fast-break baskets and 3-of-4 shooting from deep. The Jackrabbits hit 18 of 29 after intermission to finish the game 30 of 60. Heber heated up a little in the second half, though the Panthers still finished at 19 of 55 and connected on only 3 of 16 from beyond the arc. But Heber Springs got to the line 33 times, a number Swift chalked up to being out of position on defense.

Big post player Juice Lambert is still struggling to regain his timing after missing the first part of the season with injury. Lambert scored four points and grabbed five rebounds.

“He’s rushing a lot, but kids that come back do that,” Swift said. “And on our end, we’re having to learn to play with him. We want to attack, sure, but we actually want to use Juice, too. We tell them, if we can’t get it immediately to the rack, lets reverse the ball and try to use him.

“He has a lot of mass and can get down in the low position for us.”