North Little Rock finishes stronger in Marion
By Chuck Livingston Sports Editor
North Little Rock is down from their comfy perch of three straight Class 7A state hoops titles this season. But just because the Charging Wildcats are down doesn’t mean that they’re out. Playing without its leading scorer, senior Adrian Moore, North Little Rock followed up a disappointing loss last Friday night to Little Rock Central by coming to Patriot Arena and topping Marion, 58-54. The game was tied at 50-all with 2:57 left in regulation, but North Little Rock responded by scoring eight of the game’s final 12 points to outlast the Pats. “We were down Adrian Moore, our leader, but I told our kids that they had an opportunity to step up and do something,” explained North Little Rock head coach Johnny Rice. “We’ve been talking about this toughness on the road. It’s little stuff like getting back on defense, stay in front of your man, boxing out, getting to loose balls, and I thought we did a really good job on of all of that.” Something else North Little Rock did a good job of was getting stops late in the game. The Charging Wildcats forced three Marion turnovers in the last two minutes to protect their lead. After Jarvis Ricks scored on a lay-up with 2:07 remaining, an errant Marion pass shot out of bounds, giving North Little Rock possession. Following a Marion stop, the Pats lost the ball following a jump ball in which the possession arrow favored North Little Rock. Marion got the ball back down just two points following that following a missed pair of Gentrell Taylor free throws with 1:39 left. Shaun Doss, a junior forward for Marion, would draw a foul with 1:16 on the clock and when he split the pair, the Pats were within 52-51. On the ensuing North Little Rock possession, it appeared as though Marion had come up with another stop when a missed Charging Wildcat jumper was headed out of bounds, but North Little Rock’s Deon Dobbins saved the carom inbounds to teammate Morris Talbert. Talbert caught the ball near the painted area and drove left and hit a jumper for a 54-51 advantage with 41.2 seconds remaining in regulation. “That’s a guy that we knew was left-handed, so we want to make him go right,” said Marion head coach Irving Clay. “We didn’t, and he made a tough shot.” However, Marion guard A.J. Latham drew a foul with 35.7 seconds left, and he made one out of two shots to get his team within 54-52. With 26.5 seconds left, Marion fouled Talbert, who missed the front-end of the one-and-one and Doss cleared the rebound. Marion’s Treyvon Jackson came across the timeline and got on the right side of the lane when North Little Rock sophomore guard Ray Fresh stole a pass by Jackson that looked to be heading towards Marion’s Marlon Warren. Fresh would hit both free throws with 10.8 seconds left for a 56-52 lead, but Latham would drive the length of the court to score on a lay-up with 3.9 seconds left to get his squad back within two points at 56-54. Fresh drew another foul and drained both freebies to clinch the final. “We got into the one-and-one way before we actually shot one,” said Rice. “We were settling for too many jumpers. I thought once we started attacking, things went our way.” It was Marion’s second loss in as many days to a conference power after a second-straight 4-0 start to league play. “We have to execute and not turn the basketball over,” Clay stated. “Missing free throws and making free throws is a part of the game. If you make them, you win and if you miss them you lose.” Marion lost the turnover battle 15-14 and North Little Rock hit nine of their 13 free throw attempts while Marion sank 13 of 20. North Little Rock (10-9 overall, 4-3 7A/6A-East) was led by Talbert’s 19 points, nine from Ricks and seven from Barry Nixon. Marion (9-8 overall, 4-2 7A/6A-East) was led by Warren and Latham hitting for 16 points apiece, while Kamari Marrs added 11. This game was originally scheduled to be played on Friday, January 22, but winter weather forced it to be played on Saturday. The Patriots are on the road Tuesday night when they play Mountain Home in their third 6A-East game. Marion is 1-1 with a win over Searcy and a loss to Jonesboro. Marion is back at home on Friday night when they host West Memphis, with the varsity girls game tipping at 6 p.m.