Not only did the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats beat a nationally-ranked team last week but they also won the Neosho Holiday Classic.
For the second year in a row, the Wildcats (12-3) competed in the Neosho, Mo. Holiday Classic, an annual tournament between Christmas and New Year’s that has been going strong since 1955. This year, four games were played in four days. In the semifinals, the Wildcats met nationally-ranked Cypress Falls out of Houston and won 66-57. In the finals, they defeated Lafayette (Mo.) 68-57. In the first game of the tournament, they cruised to a 68-21 victory over Memphis Middle College High School. The second day of the tournament included a 73-53 triumph over Ruskin, a team from Kansas City.
“We just took it game by game,” North Little Rock Coach Johnny Rice said. “In a big tournament with 16 teams and four games in four days and not knowing each other, we just took everything game to game, and it worked.”
The performance at Neosho was welcomed after the Wildcats had a poor outcome in the Fayetteville Bulldog Classic earlier in December. They defeated Harrison in the first round and lost their next two games. A change since that tournament has worked for them.
“Since Fayetteville, we become a defensive team,” Rice said. “But not like in the past where we pressed full-court. We are a half-court defensive team and the whole team has bought into it.”
Rice said the two tournaments have taught the Wildcats different things. Winning the title at Neosho has given them confidence, and they know they can beat anybody. At the same time, they also know they can get beat by anybody.
Non-conference competition has also given Rice a chance to experiment with different rotations and lineups. He’ll play 10-11 guys and has also several guys who can score. The highlight in Neosho was sophomore Moses Moody’s 30-point performance against Ruskin.
“We looked at different situations and different needs at the time,” Rice said. “We can play different guys depending on the size of the other team and whether we need more offense or more defense.”
North Little Rock begins 7A-Central conference play Friday at Little Rock Central. While the Tigers’ win-loss margin is not great, Rice said records can always be thrown out the window when these two rivals meet.
“They have some kids who have been hurt and may be back Friday,” Rice said. “Last year, both times we played them it went into overtime. It should be a fun game.”
On Tuesday, North Little Rock hosts Conway.