SPORTS >> Owls’ Southerland steps in and out
By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor
Big double-zero had no problem reaching double figures Tuesday night.
Abundant Life’s 6-6 center Garrett Southerland scored a game-high 26 points to lead the Owls to a 64-36, mercy-ruled victory over Conway Christian in a 5-2A Conference game at Abundant Life.
Southerland hit from outside early and used his height to score inside late as Conway Christian struggled to find an answer all night.
“My post players are my best outside shooters,” Owls coach Tim Ballard said. “And my guards can shoot it but my post player can do that. But I think once he starts doing one thing, people forget he can do the other things too.
“He can score inside too and rebound and guard. I’ve been real proud of Garrett.”
For good reason. Southerland hit four three-pointers in the first half, including his first from the top of the key to make it 6-3 with 5:25 left in the first quarter.
Abundant Life (21-4, 6-0) never trailed again.
Southerland, and the Owls, truly got up to speed in the second quarter.
Abundant Life already led 15-9, but Southerland made three more three-pointers as the Owls outscored the Eagles 23-5 in the quarter and took a 36-14 halftime lead.
“He really hurt us out there,” Conway Christian coach Shane Davis said of Southerland. “I think he had 16 first-half points. We knew he could shoot out there but we didn’t think he could do it that much that often and we didn’t do a very good job of contesting the shot.”
Mike Stramiello added six points during the Owls’ big second quarter. The Eagles’ only points came on a three-pointer from the right corner by Zach Johnson and a basket from Kirby Powell.
But Johnson picked up his second foul on a charge with 7:10 left in the second quarter, and he committed his third in the closing seconds of the third quarter.
“Their No. 3 got in foul trouble and had a seat and that’s really when we exposed them, I think,” Ballard said.
The second quarter was just too much to overcome, Davis said.
“We have a tendency, when we get down, we kind of hold our heads down,” Davis said. “We don’t do a good job of keeping playing. Us getting down that first quarter, it was 15-9. That second quarter, it was 23-5, I believe it was, and we just couldn’t recover from that.”
The Eagles outscored the Owls 13-12 in the third quarter, but Southerland switched up his game and scored eight points, all from inside the three-point line, to help keep Conway Christian from cutting into the big lead.
After wholesale substitution by both teams with 3:40 left in the game, the Owls finally triggered the mercy rule when Clark Endy scored from inside for the 64-34 lead.
The rule requires the clock to run once a team reaches a 30-point lead any time in the fourth quarter.
As much as Southerland shone on offense, Ballard said the defense had a role in things Tuesday.
“They’re hard to figure out how to play because we usually just get out and press them like crazy and make it a rat race and go all or nothing early,” Ballard said. “We decided to just kind of guard them for awhile and see what happens and play a tight defense.”
Stramiello added 14 points for Abundant Life and George Herring scored 10.
Powell led Conway Christian with 15 points.
Ballard agreed it is a challenge to keep his team focused without letup in such a runaway victory. Especially after Abundant Life had already beaten or hung tough with teams like North Little Rock, Benton, Pulaski Oak Grove and some 7A-sized schools in a recent tournament in Tennessee.
“I tell them how bad we are every game, even when we win,” Ballard said jokingly. “That usually helps.”
Ballard said his team might have had something else on its mind Tuesday. Abundant Life was going for the regular season sweep at Conway St. Joseph on Friday night.
“They don’t need to get re-focused. They’re ready,” Ballard said. “They may have been thinking about them tonight, as much as I tried to keep that from happening.”