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Hot offensive start enables Fort Smith Northside to roll to Coke Classic championship

Luke Young's 20 points and six three-pointers leads Grizzlies to 49-34 win against Springdale Har-Ber

By George Mitchell 

FORT SMITH - The time off before the tournament was what Fort Smith Northside needed. 

It paid off with some hot first-half shooting by the Grizzlies and a stout defense as Northside won the Coke Christmas Classic at home on Friday night by defeating Springdale Har-Ber, 49-34.

Luke Young went 3-for-3 from the 3-point line to help propel Northside to an early double-digit lead that it never relinquished for the game's duration. Young, named to the all-tournament team, finished with a game-high 20 points and shot 6-of-8 from behind the arc.

“To go 3-for-3 from the 3-point line and burning like that, it always makes things look good,” Northside coach Eric Burnett said. “They did a good job when it comes to playing together on offense and then looking out for each other on defense.”

Denarion Whitmore added eight points in the first quarter, and tournament MVP Dae’Marion Savoy capped the quarter with a layup.

In the second half, Har-Ber was chipping away at Northside’s lead. Young made a couple more 3-pointers to help slow down the Wildcats’ momentum.

“I had a really good warm-up,” said Young. “I think the guards saw me doing well, so it came off hot.

"This is another step toward our main goal of winning a state championship. Everyone is putting in the work and getting ready for it.”

While the Grizzlies had a hot start on offense to go up 21-8 in the first quarter, Burnett thought the defense came through for the team.

“What really helped us is how we came out to play defense,” Burnett said. “We got them into two shot-clock violations, and we were moving to the ball on defense to help each other out and all over the floor.”

The team had its most significant lead of the night, 33-15, after Whitmore hit both free throws before Har-Ber's Keegan Lehmann hit a bucket with 11 seconds left to make it 33-17 before halftime.

Northside went nearly two weeks without a game but took that time to rest, get the football players up to speed, and practice.

“We needed that break just to have some practice time and allow these guys to get their legs back underneath them,” said Burnett.

Har-Ber's Jaxon Conley had 31 points in his first two games of the tournament, but was limited to four against Northside.

Jake Fotenopulos came up big in the paint for the Wildcats with 13 points and three offensive rebounds that he put back for points. The Wildcats’ offense struggled and shot 15-of-66 from the floor (22 percent), including making just 1 3-point shot in 22 attempts.  

“That was our goal. We didn’t want [Conley] to get to the basket,” said Burnett. “If he can get close, he’s really, really good.”

“We’ve been focused on defense for so long, and we’re getting better,” Savoy said. “We’re getting better every day, and we’ll keep working on it. Our defense is going to be something we’re going depend upon this season."

Before the Christmas break, Northside played eight games in 10 days and will start conference next week with three league games after an early game was postponed.

“These games mean a lot to us. We were coming together as a team. We’re all healthy,” said Savoy, who looked down at his injured wrist covered with an ice pack. “Well, we were, but we’ll be fine, and these wins will give us some momentum as we get ready for the bigger things.”

Both Conley and Fotenopulos were named to the all-tournament team. Fotenopulos finished with 24 points and 22 rebounds in three games.

Savoy completed the tournament with 24 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. Whitmore scored 26 points with 18 rebounds in three days, and Young finished with 32 points and seven rebounds.

North Little Rock 69, Sylvan Hills 49

Four Charging Wildcats reached double digits as North Little Rock defeated the Bears in the third-place game of the Coke Classic.

Braylon Frazier led with 15 points, followed by Tyler Frederick’s 12. Javion Johnson came off the bench to add 11 points, and Jaden Jones tossed in 10.

Johnson also pulled down a game-high seven rebounds, and Jones had six.

Jonathan Van Buren paced Sylvan Hills with 14 points, and DaCarter Coleman added 11.

Frederick was named to the all-tournament team and had 31 points and 14 rebounds in three games. Sylvan Hills’ James Deloach earned a spot on the all-tournament team, finishing with 34 points and 24 rebounds.

Bryant 54, Destiny Christian (Okla.) 48

Trailing by seven, the Hornets stormed back with a 16-2 run in the final quarter to win the consolation final of the Coke Classic.

The Wildcats jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, but Bryant rallied to take the lead, 16-11, by the end of the first quarter. Destiny Christian retook the lead, 35-34, in the third quarter on a bucket by Labron Wilson with 1:13 remaining.

Bryant’s Drake Fowler led the game with 18 points, and R.J. Young added 15. Sentinel Moore paced Destiny Christian with 16 points and eight rebounds, while Wilson finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.

Young was named to the all-tournament team and finished with 45 points and 20 rebounds in three days. Destiny Christian’s Jude Hill completed the event with 53 points and eight rebounds, and was named to the all-tournament team.

Fort Smith Southside 51, Little Rock Hall 45

The Mavericks’ Levi Steele led with 18 points and 15 rebounds to help lift his squad to win the consolation game of the Coke Classic.

Yazed Taforo added 17 points and nine rebounds for Southside.

The Warriors jumped to a 7-2 lead in the first quarter, but Southside finished the quarter with a 10-0 run to take the lead (18-15) that it wouldn’t relinquish for the game’s duration.

Derrick Jones led Hall with 10 points, and Jayson McNeary added eight points and seven rebounds.

Steele was named to the all-tournament team and finished the event with 45 points and 27 rebounds. Hall’s Landon Hill was also named to the team with 21 points and 15 rebounds.