Long drought kills upset hope
By Chuck Livingston Sports Editor
LITTLE ROCK — A first half of hope and optimism turned to a second half of frustration here for the Marion Lady Patriots. After 16 minutes where they matched a formidable Little Rock Central squad nearly bucket-for-bucket, the wheels came off in the third-and-fourth quarters as the Lady Tigers limited the Lady Pats to a single field goal in that span to claim a 56-29 win. Little Rock Central remained perfect at 18-0 and 4-0 in the 7A/6A-East, while Marion fell to 8-9 overall and 1-3 in the league. “When they went to their trap after halftime, it kinda shocked us the first couple of times,” explained Marion head coach Shunda Johnson. “They rattled one of my young guards a little bit. I felt like we did get the ball to the places that we wanted it to go, in the middle of the court, but we didn’t do anything with it there a lot of times.” Marion trailed the heavily-favored Little Rock Central squad just 24-20 at halftime and had controlled the tempo in the first half, by and large. In addition, the Lady Tigers struggled from the field, making just 8 of their 27 attempts before halftime. Several of those misses were from point-blank range, and Marion as a team accounted for a pair of blocks, as well. Following the trip to the lockers, Little Rock Central tuned up their defense and doubled their efforts on the offensive glass, which paid huge dividends. The Lady Tigers forced Marion into 12 second-half turnovers, many leading to easy transition buckets as a means to jump-start their offense and Little Rock Central won the rebounding title from Marion by a decisive 43-28 margin, including 17 on the offensive glass, to pull away. “We’re big, but we’re small at the same time,” Johnson explained of her team’s frontcourt players, referring to their lanky frames. “If you’re built like that, it makes it tough to rebound unless you block out and go butt-to-gut, like we teach, and we didn’t do that tonight.” Little Rock Central’s Kiara Williams, who scored 14 points and posted 10 rebounds, authored perhaps the key sequence of the whole game in the third period. Williams went on a personal 8-2 run, all on offensive stickbacks, to stake her team to its first double-digit advantage at 32-22 and 3:48 left in the third period. The Lady Tigers would eventually lead 37-22 entering the fourth period. The extra significance of Williams’s run was the two points that Marion posted in that same time. When Jakyya Clay scored on a lay-up with 5:35 left, Marion trailed just 28-22, but it would also mark the last Lady Pats field goal of the night. That accounted for a basket-less drought of 13 minutes, 25 seconds of game action. Little Rock Central’s largest lead of the night doubled as the game’s final score. The Lady Pats were led by Clay’s six points, while Tei Boston, Kennedi Boykins and Ebony Day all hit for five apiece. Tyquesha Selvy led Marion with nine rebounds and four assists. Little Rock Central not only enjoyed Williams’s game-high 14 points, but they also got seven from Aaliyah Jackson and Jennifer Greenwood while Karen Black popped for six. Marion is back at home on Friday night when they host Jonesboro in a key 6A-East conference matchup. To date, Marion is 1-0 against their 6A-East rivals, while Jonesboro is 0-1. Only the top three teams in the 6A-East will advance to the Class 6A state tournament, held this year in Russellville. Jonesboro swept the season series against Marion last season, and added a 59-55 non-conference win against the Lady Pats at this year’s Collierville DragonFire Invitational over Christmas break. Tip-off at Patriot Arena is scheduled for 6 p.m.