The Lonoke Jackrabbits used a stellar second half performance to put away Heber Springs 68-52 on Friday night at the Gina Cox Center.
With the win, Lonoke improves to 21-4 overall and finishes 4A-2 conference play at 11-3 and in second place. The Jackrabbits are now qualified for the regional tournament, which starts next week in Clinton.
"They are a very good ball club," Lonoke coach Dean Campbell said. "It [win] does a lot because it allows us to play at least two weeks. It gives us some time to work on a few things, concentrate on some book work. Hopefully, we’re about to have two or three weeks of a lot of travel, a lot of moving. It gives us one or two more days to focus on some academic stuff and give ourselves a chance to play here, ultimately."
Campbell was referring to the 4A-2 district tournament at Marianna. Lonoke will play today at 5:30 p.m. The finals are Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
If the Jackrabbits win their first round game in the regional at Clinton next week, they will qualify for the Class 4A state tournament, which begins March 5 at the Gina Cox Center.
In Friday’s win over the Panthers, Lonoke got off to a bit of a rocky start, trailing 14-8 after one quarter and 22-18 at halftime.
Heber Springs’ Willie Adkins hit a three-pointer early in the third quarter to push the Panthers’ lead to 25-18. Lonoke’s Darius McCall hit a shot jumper to ignite a 17-0 run, giving Lonoke a 35-25 lead with 2:54 left in the third quarter. Lonoke led 47-36 heading into the fourth quarter.
Adkins hit another three-pointer early in the fourth quarter, cutting Lonoke’s lead to 47-39. Lonoke respond with four in a row — two each by Jamel Rankin and Blake Mack — as the Jackrabbits led 51-39.
The Jackrabbits’ lead reached 18 points at 66-48 with 1:37 left. Rankin scored five points in a 7-0 run while Mack had a thunderous dunk to account for the run.
"It was kind of similar to the game up in Heber," Campbell said. "We hit a shot at the buzzer to tie it at halftime. We talked a lot about our last two quarters up there [at halftime Friday], how we came out and defended and did the right thing defensively. We had to believe that was going to happen again and it did.
"I think they rushed some shots and that allowed us to get some big rebounds. Darius got some big rebounds early in the third quarter that really got us going, allowed us to push it."
Campbell said his team played well defensively at times.
"We didn’t foul but they also took a lot of quick shots," he said. "That allowed us to get in transition, going the other way and to attack their big kid [Mason Schroeder] and get him in foul trouble."
Rankin led Lonoke with 20 points. Mack scored 18. McCall added 13. Darian Young scored eight. Tykel Gray added seven. Cedric Cooney scored two.
Adkins led Heber Springs with 18 points. Schroeder added 15.
Lonoke is qualified for the Class 4A East Region tournament, which will be played next week at Clinton High School.
If Lonoke wins the district title, the Jackrabbits will play Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. If they are fourth, they will play Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.
If Lonoke is second, it will play Feb. 27 at 8:30 p.m. If they are third, they will play Feb. 27 at 5:30 p.m.