Friday, November 26, 2010

SPORTS >> Round one goes to Jacksonville

Leader sports editor

Tuesday went about like Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner hoped and about like North Pulaski coach Ray Cooper feared.

Jacksonville raced to a big early lead and then held off a handful of North Pulaski challenges to beat the Falcons 68-56 before a full house at Jacksonville’s Devil’s Den.

The victory came just under two weeks after North Pulaski beat the Red Devils in a two-quarter scrimmage in a jamboree on the same court.

But since then Jacksonville has welcomed a corps of football players to the roster and Joyner said the fresh talent has raised the basketball team’s overall level of intensity.

“Right now the competition is so high in practice with all them guys in there fighting for playing time it pushed our level up a little bit,” Joyner said though he wasn’t fully satisfied. “But the organization has still got to get better.

“North Pulaski was still way more aggressive than they were. They still killed us on the boards and got way too many loose balls.”

Though not in the same conference, Jacksonville, of the 6A-East, and North Pulaski, of the 5A-Southeast, are crosstown rivals who have made a home in the late rounds of the postseason recently.

Jacksonville won the 2009 state championship, the same year North Pulaski reached the 5A final, and the Falcons reached the semifinals last year.

“I saw exactly what I thought I was going to see,” Cooper said, recalling a prediction he made at the jamboree that the Falcons would need to develop floor leadership. “I said we were going to be up and down, we were going to look crazy, we were going to look okay in spots and it was all going to be in the same game and that’s what it was.”

The intensity of the rivalry, which will include a rematch Dec. 17, showed as North Pulaski drew a technical foul for excessive jawing with 2:22 left in the third quarter. The technical came after Jacksonville held the ball for more than a minute, finally drawing out the Falcons’ defense and leading to a reverse, backdoor layup by Jacksonville’s Terrell Brown.

And the intensity was apparent from Jacksonville’s side as the Red Devils opened with a 16-3 run that began with free throws by Raheem Appleby after a Brien Simpkins foul and ended with Crushawn Hayes’ three-pointer with 3:11 left in the first quarter.

North Pulaski’s only points during the run came when Shyheim Barron hit a layup with 6:42 left and Bryan Colson tacked on a free throw with 3:31 to go in the period.

“These guys got in this atmosphere and they jumped out on us 13-0,” Cooper said. “They got in this atmosphere thinking they were going to rip and run and, they got caught up in all of this and when they jumped on us we never really recovered.”

With Jacksonville leading 20-7, North Pulaski closed out the first quarter with a free throw by Dayshawn Watkins, a three-pointer by Marcus Williams and a rebound and basket by Marvin Davis that cut it to 20-13.

Barron made two free throws with 7:12 left in the half to pull the Falcons within five. But Dustin House scored from underneath for Jacksonville and a North Pulaski miss led to a crowd-pleasing dunk by Appleby as the Devils built the lead to 34-19 lead after House sank a three-pointer.

Jacksonville’s Justin McCleary drove for a layup to stretch the lead to 40-24 with 1:52 left, and the Red Devils took a 41-30 lead into halftime.

“They came over here and they put a lot of weight into a jamboree which means absolutely nothing,” Cooper said. “I tried to tell them that it will be a whole, different atmosphere when they come in here.”

The Falcons fought back to within 41-34 to start the second half and were within 43-36 when Marcus Williams made a short jumper and 48-38 after Colson scored with under three minutes left in the third quarter.

Williams cut it to 49-42 when he made two free throws with 52.3 seconds to go in the period and Braylon Spicer made a layup to pull the Falcons within 52-46 with 5:33 left in the game.

But Brown got a steal for Jacksonville and Appleby fed Jamison Williams, one of the football arrivals, for a dunk and the 54-46 lead with 4:49 to go and North Pulaski never got within seven points again.

“We saw some good things but we still saw some things we can work on,” Joyner said. “We’ve got to get more aggressive as a team, boxing out and everybody rebounding by committee.”

Appleby led Jacksonville with 17 points and McCleary scored 12. Williams had 17 points and Colson 12 for North Pulaski.