Wednesday, March 11, 2009

SPORTS >> Red Devils top West Memphis for seat in finals

Special to The Leader

WEST MEMPHIS — In the bus on the way to Lehr Arena on Saturday, Jacksonville assistant coach Jerry Wilson got this feeling in his bones and he just had to tell head coach Victor Joyner.

“He told me that he thought Stan Appleby was going to win the game for us today,” Joyner said.

Wilson proved prescient. Appleby hit two crucial three-pointers in the third quarter and Laquentin Miles hit two clinching free throws with 14 seconds left to help Jacksonville erase a 12-point halftime lead in a 59-53 victory over West Memphis in the Class 6A semifinals at Lehr Arena.

The Red Devils, winners of 14 straight, will take on Little Rock Hall in the 6A title game Saturday at 7:45 p.m. at Summit Arena in Hot Springs.

West Memphis (20-9) ran out to a 26-14 halftime lead, thanks to a stifling triangle-and-two defense, but Joyner inserted the 5-8 Appleby into the lineup in the third quarter and he responded by swishing a pair of threes during a 25-8 Red Devil run.

“Stan had a really bad game the other day (against Benton), but coach Wilson told me that Stan was going to be the difference today,” Joyner added. “He was the difference in how we attacked that triangle-and-two in the second half.”

West Memphis head coach Larry Bray, unable to stop the lanky Jacksonville guards in their two regular-season meetings, decided to put the two man-to-man defenders in the triangle-and-two on Laquentin Miles and Deshone McClure and it worked to perfection in the first half when Miles and McClure scored just two points apiece.

But as the two 6-4 guards were able to penetrate more in the third quarter, there was Appleby all alone on the perimeter for the kick-out passes.

“One of the things we were worried about was their guards’ ability to penetrate inside,” said Bray. “In the first half, their guards penetrated, but we were able to swat their shots because there was no one on the three-point line to pass it back out to.”
West Memphis tied the score 50-50 with two free throws by Derrick Burns with 2:31 to play, but that’s when the Red Devils (23-3) came back with some crucial plays. The first was a lay-up by Antwan Lockhart, who along with Miles led Jacksonville with 17 points. Then Miles stuck back a missed shot.

Then came the crusher for West Memphis. Anthony Borden, a 6-10 senior center and a University of Arkansas signee, fouled out while reaching over the back of Demetrius Harris on a rebound.

The Red Devils responded with a free throw by McClure for a 55-50 lead with 23.5 seconds to play. West Memphis came back down and missed a three from junior B.J. Rossell, but teammate Tarvin Gaines rebounded and canned a three-pointer with 17 seconds to play in the game for a 55-53 Jacksonville lead.

Miles, however, answered with two free throws with 13.2 seconds to play to clinch the outcome.

“At halftime I was just able to settle them down,” Joyner stated. “Most of them are seniors and I just told them they’d been here before. A point at a time, a bucket at a time we came back. We started being more patient in our offense.

“West Memphis was a little hungrier than we were to start the game. We guarded a little better in the second half.”

McClure added 11 points for Jacksonville while Harris scored eight and Appleby finished with six big ones.

West Memphis got 17 points from Gaines while Burns came off the bench for 14 and Jonathan Fitzgerald scored seven.

Jacksonville hopes to complete its dream season on Saturday in Hot Springs in the championship game.

“We want to win another championship,” said Joyner. “We’ve already won the conference championship, now they want to win a state title ... and they’re doing it.”