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Three-point plays and five-point possession carry Sparta to its own championship game

SPARTA'S DEXTER LOVELAND pulls down a rebound against Greenwood at the Sparta Tournament on Thursday.
SPARTA'S DEXTER LOVELAND pulls down a rebound against Greenwood at the Sparta Tournament on Thursday.

They're moving the site of the Sparta Tournament for championship Saturday, technically for a second time due to flooding at Sparta High School, from the Sparta Middle School to Rogersville. 

There was even a more dramatic switcheroo on semifinal Thursday.

Sparta scored the night's final eight points to emerge with a 42-35 victory versus Greenwood in a somewhat bizarre contest that can be best characterized as a contrast of itself.

The game turned when the Trojans traded 3-pointers for three-point plays down the stretch.

Sparta relied heavily on 3-pointers for much of the night. Through three quarters, nearly half of the Trojans' 32 points was the result of a trio of 3s by Kavan Walker and a pair of treys by Steven Brown.

But the tourney hosts attempted just one shot beyond the arc in the fourth quarter. 

Over the final 10 minutes, center Jacob Lafferty broke loose to score eight of his game-high 12 points.

"Our 3-pointers helped open up (the inside). But we weren't looking down low," Lafferty said. "Coach (Deric Link) had to tell us to start doing that. Once we did, we started getting a lot better looks."

"We've got to use our 'bigs,'" Brown said. "Whenever you've got 6-5 Jake and Dexter (Loveland) who is a big enough boy to move people, why not use them? We can get inside-outside 3s when we need them."

"In a lot of our games our advantage is our ability to score at the rim," Link said. "We want to put pressure at the rim. Our strength has to be getting at the rim, getting teams in foul trouble and getting to the foul line."

Sparta (16-4) had the opportunity for a trio of three-point plays in the second half and converted on two. As Greenwood fouls mounted and the Trojans were put in the bonus, Lafferty exhibited a killer instinct.  

"Attack — you want to try to get them in foul trouble as much as possible and go to the free-throw line," Lafferty said. "Get honey in the honey-hole."

A pivotal moment also occurred near the end of the third quarter, after a referee stopped a Greenwood dribble to issue a warning to Link. Sparta's preceding possession had drawn the ire of Link when he felt Lafferty was hacked, but no foul was called.

"I thought my kid got pushed when he went up for a rebound. It was a safety issue for me," Link said. "Sometimes, you need to get a warning every once in a while to show you care and that you're going to fight for (your players)."

"I was pretty mad and coach got pretty mad. He has my back, that's great," Lafferty said. "I also got pushed really hard in the back at Hartville (last week) and the refs didn't do anything about it. He's always got my back because the refs barely call any fouls on guys (defending) me." 

Link's voice seemingly was heard on this night.

In the first half, Sparta was called for seven fouls and Greenwood three. In the second half, the Bluejays were whistled for 10 fouls, including a technical foul, and the Trojans had four fouls.

"Two teams that are District opponents and are jockeying for position. Of course, it's going to be a little physical," Link said. "Each game, there are a different set of rules and you've got to adapt to those set of rules. That's how it is."

In addition to its three-point plays, Sparta even enjoyed what proved to be a prolonged five-point trip downcourt following Greenwood's technical foul on a player.

After Lafferty and Walker Loveland teamed to make three free throws, Sparta was up 40-35 with 3:45 remaining, while also in the double-bonus. The technical, of course, also kept the ball in the Trojans' hands. 

With MSHSAA still in the dark about the desperate need for a shot-clock, a hotly-contested affair was suddenly all but over. Sparta worked the ball around for more than two minutes until Walker Loveland was fouled and hit two more freebies with 1:19 left.

Greenwood (12-6) had just two points in the fourth quarter.

Link expressed that if fans on hand felt the three-man officiating crew endured a rough stretch of bad calls and particularly non-calls in the second half, the coaches and players should accept some of the blame. 

"We as players and coaches make it hard on (officials) sometimes," Link said. "They tell us when we make shots, we make their jobs easy and when we don't make shots, we don't make their jobs easy. That's 100 percent true."

Sparta advances to meet Mansfield (19-0) in the championship game. The Lions downed Fair Grove 59-43 in the other semifinal. 

"They're big. We can't be scared of them," Lafferty said. "If we work really hard on getting to the rim, getting to the free-throw line and also getting kick-out 3s, that's going to be telling."

"They're well-coached, disciplined and have good athletes," Link said. "It's going to be a fun one. Hopefully, we get to see them again down the line (in the playoffs). That would be a Quarterfinal matchup, if we get there."

Sparta 42, Greenwood 35

GREENWOOD (35) — Clark 5 0-0 11, Rose 3 2-2 8, Winston 1 0-0 3, Burn 5 1-1 11, Litherland 1 0-0 2.

SPARTA (42) — W. Loveland 1 4-4 6, Walker 3 0-0 9, Lafferty 5 2-5 12, D. Loveland 4 1-1 9, Brown 2 0-2 6. 

Greenwood      5 14 14   2 - 35

Sparta           16  5  11 10 - 42

3-point goals - Walker 3, Brown 2, Clark, Winston.


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