Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

SPORTS >> Panthers spoil night for seniors at Lonoke

Leader sportswriter

A shining sophomore was not enough for Lonoke on senior night.

Post player T.J. Scott led the way for the Jackrabbits with a strong, 16-point performance, but he was the only Lonoke player in double figures against a Heber Springs team that had three, and the home team fell short on Friday as Heber Springs won 60-45.

The Panthers (18-7, 12-2 2-4A Conference) benefited from guard Tanner Rockwell’s deadeye shooting and Caleb Brock’s quirky moves in the lane on their way to securing the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in this week’s district tournament at Stuttgart.

“We did some better things on offense tonight than what we’ve been doing as far as being patient,” Panthers coach Kevin Kyzer said. “We got away from that late, but we did a pretty good job offensively. Early, we did a poor job defensively of denying the ball in the paint. We shored that up and were able to extend our lead in the second quarter.”

Heber Springs finished one game behind league champion Marianna-Lee.

“We probably weren’t a very good team to start the year,” Kyzer said. “We steadily got better. We split with Marianna, and the guys did a really good job of improving all year. They really came to play every night in conference. We only had eight home games all year, so a lot of it has been on the road.”

The Jackrabbits (11-10, 7-7) kept it close early with seven inside points from T.J. Scott in the first quarter. But the team was without junior starting point guard Darius Scott, who chose to attend an event at Ole Miss over his teammates’ senior night and conference finale, and the one-dimensional approach did not hold up.

“They’re a very good team, I mean, there’s no getting around it,” said Jackrabbits coach Dean Campbell, who declined to comment on Darius Scott’s absence. “They’re very physical, strong kids in the post, guards that shoot it real well. You can tell they spend a lot of time in the gym. It’s a credit to them.”

Rockwell scored all but two of his game-high 17 points on three-pointers, including a pair in the final 2:28 of the first quarter to help Heber Springs take the lead for the first time. But it was the inside-outside play of two-guard Brock that kept Lonoke off balance.

Brock scored 10 straight points for the Panthers starting with 4:03 left in second quarter as he hit two consecutive baskets in the lane. His approaches were awkward and his releases were even more unconventional, but both shots fell.

He then extended his run and Heber Springs’ lead with a 30-footer that made it 29-21, and capped it off with another three-pointer with 1:27 left in the half for a 32-21 Panthers lead.

“That’s the way he plays — that’s the way he’s always played,” Campbell said of Brock’s unusual inside style. “And I think he kind of took it personal. At their place, we held him to no buckets. I think he had three points — three free throws. I think he wanted to come in and make a statement, and he did.”

Lonoke seniors Mike Jones and Demarcus Dodson did not go down without a fight in their final game at home. Along with fellow senior and two-sport star Michael Nelson, Jones and Dodson tried to battle back from a 34-21 halftime deficit.

Jones scored seven points and Dodson had six for Lonoke, but 16 points by Brock, and another 10 from forward Austin Brown allowed the Panthers to extend their lead to 50-31 at the end of three quarters.

“The first quarter, I thought we played real well,” Campbell said. “We moved the ball, we were active; second quarter, we got a little stagnant and didn’t move as much. And they knocked down some shots. There were times we were there, and they knocked them down.”

Lonoke will be the No. 3 seed in this week’s 2-4A district tournament at Stuttgart with a first-round bye. The Jackrabbits played Tuesday night against the winner of Monday’s first-round game between Clinton and Southside Batesville.