SPORTS >> ’Rabbits edge Ricebirds
By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor
The Lonoke Jackrabbits proved winning is great medicine for growing pains Tuesday night.
With three sophomores in critical roles, the Jackrabbits battled back from a nine-point, third-quarter deficit to beat rival Stuttgart 46-44 in a 2-4A Conference game at Lonoke.
“You don’t want to jump the gun, but we’re starting to grow up a little bit,” Lonoke coach Dean Campbell said.
Darius Scott hit a pull-up jumper in the lane with 40.1 seconds left to give Lonoke a 45-44 lead, and after a series of Stuttgart misses and offensive rebounds, Chad Dixon made one of two free throws for the Jackrabbits with 9.4 seconds left for the final margin.
Lonoke still wasn’t out of the woods, as Stuttgart’s Charles Coleman rebounded Dixon’s missed free throw with time to score, but Glenn King missed a three-pointer and Devonte Ice missed the follow-up before Dixon could grab the rebound and lock it up.
“There were points where we did get caught watching their offensive rebounds late, within a minute down there,” Campbell said. “I don’t want to keep going back to it, but those are all things that young, inexperienced teams do. That’s what you’re going to get. We get stretches where we do it and stretches where we don’t.”
The Jackrabbits struggled to contend with the Ricebirds’ traps and double and triple teams that forced multiple turnovers in the first half as Stuttgart took a 21-17 halftime lead.
But with sophomores C.J Whitehead, Tarrale Watson and T.J. Scott on the floor at key times in the second half, the Jackrabbits fought back after Stuttgart took a 26-17 lead with 5:19 left in the third quarter.
“For us to be able to take the pressure they were giving and fight through and get a win after being down, I’m pretty proud of them,” Campbell said. “I looked up one time and we had three sophomores out there in the heat of it when we needed stops, when we needed good possessions on offense.”
Mike James tied it at 28 with a layup with 35 seconds left in the third quarter, but the Ricebirds pulled away again, taking a 35-28lead when Darrell Horner made a three-pointer with 6:21 left in the game.
Whitehead made two free throws to get Lonoke within 37-35 with 5:21 left, then dribbled behind his back and hit James for an open layup to tie at 37. T.J. Scott’s leaner tied it again at 39, and Storm Beeler made a jumper from the high post to give Lonoke its first lead since early in the second quarter, 43-42, with 1:43 left.
King made a jumper from the free-throw line with 49 seconds left to give Stuttgart its final lead.
Darius Scott, a 5-10 junior, led Lonoke (4-4, 1-1) with 16 points and Beeler, a 5-10 junior, added 10. The two were members of Lonoke’s state runner-up football team, as is reserve Michael Nelson, the quarterback.
Lonoke’s march through the football postseason forced the Jackrabbits to postpone their basketball game with DeWitt, leading them to play three games, two at home, in the coming week.
Campbell said as long as another Lonoke program was having success, it was worth the wait.
“And those kids, hopefully, carry winning from one program over to another and I think it goes back in the other direction as well,” Campbell said.
Campbell said the difference in Tuesday’s second half, compared to the first, was that his players remembered what had been discussed before the game.
“Just simple things we talked about with being a young team,” he said. “We forget what we talked about and what we just went over.
“There were gaps that we didn’t go hit. We were staying away. There were some gaps that we really focused on. Just catching and what we call peeking at the rim. That helps to slow us down a little bit.”
The highlight of the first half may have been when Darius Scott lost the ball after crossing center court with time running out, picked it up and made a desperation three-pointer from near the right sideline as time expired in the first quarter to give Lonoke a 12-8 lead.
But Stuttgart outscored Lonoke 13-5 in the second quarter to take its halftime lead.