FAYETTEVILLE — Former North Little Rock star and current Arkansas Razorback Anton Beard sat under the basket in Fayetteville’s Bulldog Arena watching his high school alma mater play Friday.
North Little Rock coach Johnny Rice doesn’t have a Beard or a KeVaughn Allen — another former North Little Rock standout who is now a Florida Gator — this year, evidenced by an 0-4 start against a tough schedule. But the Charging Wildcats are finding their footing in Fayetteville’s Bulldog Classic.
North Little Rock beat Springdale 54-42 in the semifinals Friday, knocking down 8 of 14 from 3-point range and blitzing the Bulldogs with a 20-8 third-quarter run to earn a place in the title game.
“It takes some adjustment,” Rice said. “Early in the year we were turning around looking for KeVaughn or Anton or K.J. (Hill) or whoever. They weren’t there. And now we’re starting to figure out it’s their turn.”
The Charging Wildcats (2-4) will get a rematch with Fayetteville in the title game at 2:30 p.m. today, a team they lost to 78-48 in their season opener. They’ll have a chance to show the progress they’ve made since in the championship game, progress that included an impressive second-half showing against Springdale after trailing 21-20 at intermission.
Jarvis Ricks scored a team-high 12 for North Little Rock, while talented senior Adrian Moore and Morris Talbert each added 10. The Charging Wildcats shot 51.4 percent from the floor, a number bolstered by scoring 17 points off 19 Springdale turnovers.
“The more urgency we play with on defense, the better we are on offense, even when we’re in a halfcourt situation on offense,” Rice said. “We picked it up a level effort-wise in the second half and got going. You start making shots and everybody gets more into it.”
The Bulldogs (5-1) led 13-8 after the quarter and still had a one-point edge at halftime despite shooting just 33 percent from the floor. But a pair of third-quarter turnovers led to two North Little Rock dunks, which, combined with a 3-pointer and a free throw, quickly turned a deficit into a 34-27 lead the Charging Wildcats never lost.
“I was real impressed with our effort, execution and defense in the first half,” Springdale coach Jeremy Price said. “We’ve got to play an A-plus game against teams like that with that much athleticism and shooting ability. Outside of about a three-minute spurt, we played pretty good.”
Kyler Mahar scored a game-high 15 for Springdale and has averaged 14 points his last three outings after scoring just 15 total in his first three games. The Bulldogs will face Lee’s Summit, Mo., in the third-place game at 1 p.m. today.
North Little Rock 54, Springdale High 42
Springdale (5-0): Mahar 15, Bobo 8, Carachure 6, Lindsey 6, McFarlane 5, Young 2.
NLR (2-4): Ricks 12, Moore 10, Talbert 10, Dobbins 9, Walker 6, Taylor 4, Nixon 3.