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There's not much Forrest City Coach Dwight Lofton hasn't seen during the first 22 years that the Rumble on the Ridge basketball tournament has been in existence. So when the Mustangs' long-time coach was asked about what he expects to see in this year's edition, he didn't mince words.

"A heck of an event, as always," he said. "Honestly, it really ought to be a very good tournament. We've got some nice squads coming from Georgia, some good teams out of Tennessee, a school out of Dallas, of course us, North Little Rock's coming in, Bryant's coming in. ... we've got a pretty stout little field this year, and we're excited about it."

The 23rd installment of the Thanksgiving showcase kicks off today at Mustang Arena when last season's Class 6A boys runner-up, Bryant, takes on East Point (Ga.) Tri-Cities at 3:30 p.m. The eight-team, three-day tournament will last through Saturday, with the championship game set for 4:30 p.m. on the final day.

Other first-round matchups include Bartlett, Tenn., which beat Little Rock Hall in the tournament final a year ago, battling iSchool, Texas, at 5 p.m. and Forrest City taking the floor with Osborne, Ga., at 6:30 p.m. The nightcap will feature North Little Rock and Kenwood, Tenn., at 8 p.m.

Lofton noted that competition level would be just as stiff as in years past, but that doesn't mean his expectations for his Mustangs have changed. He still expects them to be in the mix despite early missteps. Forrest City, a fourth-place finisher in last season's Rumble on the Ridge, has dropped its first two games of the season, including a 64-50 setback to Little Rock Central at last week's Hoopin' 4 Hoodies Classic. Lofton, though, doesn't seem to overly concerned about the way his team has played.

"You go on the road to play a very good Blytheville team, then you come down to North Little Rock to play Little Rock Central. ... Those are two tough ones off the bat," he said. "I love how we compete, and we play extremely hard defensively, especially against Central. There aren't going to be too many teams that hit 10 three-pointers on you, that just ain't gone happen often.

"So we're going to be cool. That's what this time of year is for. You want to play those teams that expose what your true weaknesses are so you'll know what to do moving forward."

Forrest City finished 14-11 last season and missed out on a state tournament berth for only the second time in the past 16 seasons. Lofton, who's in his 21st year with the Mustangs, said he's leaning heavily on seniors Ta'Darius Dale and Chad Mathis in 2019 to help lead Forrest City back into the postseason.

"Those are my two heavyweights," he explained. "Dale is our go-to-guy offensively, and I really hope Chad settles in to being that No. 2 guy. But I like what I've seen out of the guys, as a group, so far.

"We've had some tough games already, and after this tournament here, we'll definitely be able to say we're battle tested."

There are other Arkansas teams that'll be traveling outside the state to participate in holiday tournaments, including a trio of Class 5A powers playing in Texas.

Defending Class 5A boys state champion Marion will be joined by Little Rock Hall and West Memphis in Duncanville, Texas, to participate in the Thanksgiving Day Hoopfest. Hall, which was runner-up to Marion a year ago, opens the two-day event against Port Allen, La., on Friday at 9 a.m. at Sandra Meadow Arena. West Memphis, led by University of Auburn commit Chris Moore, follows at 11:30 a.m. with Austin Westlake, Texas, while Marion and Oak Cliff Faith Family, Texas, play at 6 p.m. Duncanville, Texas, will close out the first day with a game against a Montverde Academy, Fla., team guided by University of Arkansas commit and Little Rock native Moses Moody.

Marion and West Memphis play Saturday as well, with the Patriots taking on North Crowley, Texas, at 12:30 p.m. and the Blue Devils facing Waxahachie, Texas, at 2 p.m.

Another Razorbacks pledge, Jaylin Williams, has spearheaded Fort Smith Northside this season, but it was a 12-point effort from junior guard Jacob Joe that helped the Grizzlies beat St. Louis De Smit Jesuit 45-39 at the Tournament of Champions in Peoria, Ill., on Wednesday morning. Northside, last year's Class 6A state titlist, will continue play in the event against Woodward Academy, Ga., today at 7 p.m. before ending with Lake Forest Academy, Ill., at 3 p.m. on Friday.

Sports on 11/28/2019

Print Headline: Forrest City set to host stiff Rumble field

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