Leader Blues

Saturday, December 05, 2009

SPORTS >> Lions exterminate Hornets in Classic

Searcy’s Casey Wilmath drives toward the basket during Thursday’s game with Bryant at Searcy.

Leader sportswriter

Searcy took care of its pest control issues in the Jungle on Thursday night.

The Lions beat the Bryant Hornets 51-35 in the semifinals of the Bank Classic at Searcy’s home gym, otherwise known as “The Jungle.”

The Lions (3-2) scored more in the first five minutes than in the entire second half, jumping out to what turned out to be an insurmountable 40-15 lead at halftime.

Improved Bryant defense in the third and fourth quarters broke Searcy’s early momentum, and a pesky performance by Hornet junior K-Ron Larry helped pull Bryant within 47-35 with 4:27 left to play.

Larry led the Hornets with 17 points, but Searcy junior forward Jamal Jones’ game-high 19 points proved to be the difference as he scored most of them in the first half. Jones hit six field goals in the first quarter alone and followed in the second quarter with a pair of three-pointers to account for all but two of his 19-point total.

Defense was just as strong as the offense for the Lions in the first half. Bryant found every passing lane clogged and every Hornet ball handler was swarmed, resulting in turnovers that led to easy transition points for the Lions.

“We had a big game at Batesville and had a big lead early,” Searcy coach Jim Summers said. “And they kept chipping away in the second half and we kind of got tight and let it get away. We tried to improve on that, and I think we did in some ways.”

Summers told his team at halftime that, with a 25-point lead, if the defense could keep Bryant under 25 then Searcy would win.

Mission accomplished.

“We held them to 20 in the second half, which is a good point total when we’re playing a 7A school,” Summers said.

“Offensively, we shot it like crazy in the first half, and you’re not going to do that in a night for a full game. We fell a little flat, but the kids played hard enough to win the game, and that’s what we wanted.”

Bryant’s only lead came in the opening minute when Larry hit a mid-range jumper for the first score. Searcy senior forward Luke Hoffman quickly turned that around with back-to-back three-pointers.

Jones scored inside with 4:13 left in the first quarter to put the Lions up 8-5, and sophomore Dezmund Stegall extended the lead to 11-5 with a basket with 3:27 left.

Jones got the transition game going for Searcy in the final two minutes of the first quarter. Searcy pressured Bryant at midcourt to force errors, leading to quick points for Jones.

He put in a lay-up off a steal and assist from junior Casey Wilmath to make it 17-8, and Jones got the home crowd energized with a steal and dunk for a 19-7 lead with 1:35 left in the quarter.

“We’ve really been putting a lot of emphasis in the preseason on defense and half-court man-to-man,” Summers said. “We haven’t let them play anything else. We haven’t played any zones or match-ups yet. We’re still trying to get better in our man-to-man.

“I think we’re really playing good half-court defense right now. In the second half, we didn’t shoot it well, but our defense could carry us.”

The Hornets struggled with more forced errors in the second quarter, which led to only four second-quarter points. In an effort to shake things up, the Bryant staff benched its entire starting five midway through the quarter and brought in reserves.

Jones showed off his scoring versatility in the second quarter. After doing most of his damage inside early, he moved behind the three-point line for a pair of successful shots to go with a three-pointer each for Stegall and Wilmath. Senior post Larry Kilpatrick came off the bench to contribute all of his three points during that stretch.

Jones’ game-changing performances over the past year have not gone unnoticed. Summers said Jones is receiving recruiting interest from Ole Miss, Missouri State, Southeast Missouri State and Portland State.

“He totally campaigns himself,” Summers said of Jones. “I’m willing to help kids any way I can, but he’s already getting some looks. Those guys know how to do it; no matter where you’re at, they’re going to find you.”

Wilmath added 12 points for Searcy while Stegall and Hoffman each had six.

Searcy will take on the winner of Thursday’s North Little Rock-Wynne game in the Bank Classic championship tonight at 7:30 p.m.

In other Bank Classic games, The Searcy Lady Lions advanced to the semifinal with a 63-24 rout of Little Rock Fair on Tuesday.

Searcy played Wynne Thursday to determine who will face Jonesboro in tonight’s championship game at 6 p.m.

The Beebe Lady Badgers lost their second game of the tourney to Batesville, 52-28, on Thursday night. The Lady Badgers will face either Pine Bluff or Fair in a consolation game today at 10:30 a.m.