PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. — Arnold coach Ray Ezell hoped his struggling team could use the Marlin Christmas Classic to grow and show positive signs that it could become more consistently competitive during the final stretch of the season.
The first-year Marlins coach doesn’t appear to have gotten his wish, as Arnold dropped its third straight game by 15 or more points, falling this time on Wednesday to LaVergne (Tenn.) 49-34 in the seventh-place game.
On the boys side, Moore County (Tenn.) won a closely contested matchup with Wren (S.C.) 47-42 to earn seventh.
LaVergne used a 20-0 first-half run to blow open the game with Arnold and take a 30-10 halftime lead. The Marlins never got closer than 15 points the rest of the way.
It was a performance that Ezell said was disappointing in a way that no other has been this year.
“That was a team that I thought we were better than, and that’s the first time this year I think we’ve lost to a team that I thought we were better than,” Ezell said. “But we played three games in a row with seven (players) on the bench, so endurance came into play.
“We played a team that was quicker than us and quickness is not our asset. Their defensive pressure took us out of any halfcourt flow.”
The Marlins, 4-11, had 25 turnovers in the game and struggled to get the ball past halfcourt whenever junior guard Jazlin Jones wasn’t in the game.
Jones had 19 points and six rebounds to lead Arnold, while Lilyann Robinson added 11 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out. Jones and Robinson combined for 30 of the 34 Marlins’ points after scoring all 28 in the team’s 36-point loss to Mosley on Tuesday.
“It was basically Jazlin against” LaVergne, Ezell said. “Lilyann had her moments, but again foul trouble prevented her from getting into any kind of rhythm.”
Miesha Lane led the Wolverines with 13 points, with Shenice Hart adding 10 points and six rebounds, and Brianna Chapman eight points. Brandi Davis scored seven.
Arnold will host Niceville on Tuesday.
Jordan Barrier led Moore County with 12 points and Ryan Northcutt added 11 points. OJ Hurst led the way for the Hurricanes with 11 points.
Wren held an 11-10 lead after one quarter, but Moore County surged ahead 21-18 at halftime and took a 34-29 edge into the fourth quarter.
Moore County’s lead was trimmed to one at 42-41 in the final minute, but the Hurricanes were unable to get the go-ahead bucket and the Raiders pulled away. The win snapped a five-game losing streak for MCHS, which improved 7-10 on the year.
Moore County returns to Lynchburg on Thursday and will have the weekend off. The Raiders will travel to Grundy County on Jan. 6 and will play at Community on Jan. 9.
—By DUSTIN KENT, Panama City News Herald (@PCNHDustinKent, firstname.lastname@example.org)