HOT SPRINGS — A sixth state title was not meant to be this year for the Lonoke Jackrabbits.
Lonoke got off to a slow start then could not get over the hump as the Brookland Bearcats beat the Jackrabbits 60-50 to win the Class 4A state championship March 13 at Summit Arena.
"There are 48 teams in 4A; 46 did not make the trip," Lonoke coach Dean Campbell said. "It was a great year."
Lonoke never led in the game; the Jackrabbits trailed 5-0 and 13-7 after one quarter. The Bearcats led 26-13 with 2:23 left in the first half and 28-15 when Lonoke’s Darian Young hit Lonoke’s only three-pointer of the game to cut the deficit to 28-18 by halftime.
Brookland continued to lead by double digits, including 36-23 on a basket by Patrick Hudson with 1:16 left in the third quarter.
"We weren’t guarding very well in the first two quarters," Campbell said. "We did a lot of chasing, instead of jumping to the ball and being in the right position."
Lonoke senior Darrius McCall said the team wasn’t nervous to start the game.
"I think we were just really hyped up," he said. "We were ready to play. We’re just the underdog in every game. We fought to win but just came up short."
Campbell said Brookland’s defense hurt his team in the first half.
"We didn’t have as good people movement as we usually do," he said. "I think we were searching and trying to figure out things, especially when they got off to a little bit quicker start. We may have pressed a little bit. That’s to be expected when you get down to a very good team. We know they are a tough-minded, physical team. The good thing about these guys is that they didn’t quit."
And they didn’t as the Jackrabbits finally came to life in the final 46 seconds of the third quarter. Lonoke’s Blake Mack converted a three-point play with 46 seconds left to cut the deficit to 36-26.
Lonoke’s press caused a turnover on the ensuing possession. That led to a thunderous dunk by Mack with 28 seconds left as the Jackrabbits got the deficit under 10 points for the first time since 19-13 with 4:20 left in the first half.
The Jackrabbits continued the run in the fourth quarter. Mack scored on a drive to the basket on the first possession of the final eight minutes. McCall then hit two free throws with 7:34 left to make the score 36-32.
The Bearcats were able to break Lonoke’s press, which led to a layup by William Ballard with 7:22 left, pushing the lead to 38-32.
Lonoke pulled to within three at 38-35 on a putback and subsequent free throw by McCall with 6:46 left.
"We went to our press and sped them up," Campbell said. "We possibly used too much energy. We just might not had enough to get back over the top."
Brookland scored the next three points to lead 41-35. Mack then hit a basket but missed a free throw with 5:47 left to make the score 41-37.
The Jackrabbits then went scoreless for 2 minutes, 47 seconds. Jamel Rankin broke the drought with a drive to the basket with three minutes left, making the score 45-39. From there, Brookland outscored Lonoke 15-11 over the last 2:53.
The Jackrabbits could not get any closer than six points the remainder of the game — the last coming at 54-48 with 25.2 seconds left. Lonoke’s Jawaun Bryant hit 2 free throws, shooting for Mack, who was ejected after getting into a tussle with Brookland’s Dillon Groves, who fouled Mack on a drive to the basket.
After Bryant’s foul shots, Brookland’s Chandler Thompson hit both shots on the technical foul then Reece Gamling hit a basket with 22.9 seconds left to ice the game, making the score 58-48.
"We had chances to lay down but we didn’t," Campbell said. "I think we had opportunities to point the finger, not just at ourselves but others. And we didn’t.
"I can’t say enough about these guys that I’ve had since seventh grade, the seniors. I know you hear this a lot but this is the closest I get to having boys with having two daughters."
Mack said Brookland’s physical style was not what the Jackrabbits were used to playing against.
"All of the teams in our conference give you space," Mack said. "We’ve never played anyone that physical. It took us out of the flow of our game."
Mack led Lonoke with 19 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. Rankin added nine points and five boards. Young had seven points and five rebounds. McCall had five points. Gray and Cedric Cooney had four points each. Bryant scored two points.
Thompson led Brookland with 15 points. Gamling had 12. Ballard had 10 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.