MABELVALE — Still transitioning from winning a 3A state championship in football to basketball, the Harding Academy Wildcats fell in only their second game of the season to the Little Rock Southwest Gryphons 53-31 on Wednesday night.
Most of the Harding Academy roster is coming off the state title game victory Dec.19 at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock and it showed.
The Gryphons came out fast and scored the first eight points of the game. Kamal Polite had six of the eight points with back-to-back three-point shots to open the game.
The Wildcats had a hard time keeping up with the speed and tempo of Southwest throughout most of the game and the offense that Harding Academy ran in the first half did not look as crisp as coach Brad Francis would have liked.
“I know it’s a little bit of a grind on them right now,” Francis said. “I think as we go further you’ll see it pick up.”
Caden Sipe led the Wildcats in scoring in the first quarter with five points to help his team fight back into the game.
For the Gryphons, the offense was going to Emir Siddiq. His size was unmatched and he was able to get points in the paint seemingly when he wanted in the first quarter, scoring six.
“I think you need to try and find an anchor, someone who settles your team and Amir did a good job of that today,” Southwest coach Christopher Errol Threatt said. “I think if you can find someone to score around the goal, it’s going to give the defense something to contend with. It’ll open up shots on the perimeter for the other players that are moving and accessible. I think all of that is contingent on inside to anchor your team. That’s what Amir did for us today.”
The Gryphons led at the end of one quarter 16-10.
Fatigue for Harding Academy seemed to start to set in in the second quarter.
Southwest started to run in transition and got layups and dunks in the quarter and it just looked like Harding Academy was a touch slower than the athletic Gryphons.
“I think we have only had five practices now with the group,” Francis said. “I told them we can’t cover everything that probably is going to come up in a game. We’re probably going to have to do a few things on the fly. That’s tough to do when you are playing a good athletic team like we were today to improvise a few things along the way.”
The Wildcats were held to only one basket in the quarter and that came at the one-minute mark on a three-point basket from Sipe to cut the Southwest lead down to 11 at the half 24-13.
Siddiq at the half led all scorers with 10 points. Sipe led the Wildcats with eight.
As the second half got underway, it again was Southwest that wanted to run with the ball and make Harding Academy expend more energy.
Siddiq added six more points in the third quarter to give him 16 on the night.
For Harding Academy, two players in the second half were the only ones to score. Adam Fager and Carter Neal recorded all of their points in the second half.
In the third quarter, Neal had three points and Fager had five.
Going into the fourth despite a spark in the Wildcats’ offense, Southwest led by 20 at 41-21.
In the final eight minutes, Fager went to work in the low post and added six points.
“I had to sit the first half so I had enough energy to go into the fourth quarter and make them count,” Fager said.
Neal found a burst of energy and got a layup and then got his own rebound for a putback to give him four in the final quarter.
“We got to get in their heads early,” Neal said. “They had the lead going into the second half so for us to get back into the game we had to strike back. (We needed) to put pressure on them so we could get the ball back on offense as fast as we can and score points.”
The deficit was too great, however, and Southwest was able to keep the lead despite Harding Academy’s offensive flurry in the second half.