Tuesday, February 15, 2011

SPORTS >> Devils bump Warriors

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville squandered two second-half rallies before coming through when it counted during its 62-60 victory over Little Rock Hall at Cirks Arena on Monday.

James Aikens hit the game- winning shot with 14 seconds left and Jacksonville claimed a turnover to lock up the 6A-East Conference matchup and avenge an earlier home loss to Hall.

“We got two proud programs,” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said of the series that includes a state final showdown won by Jacksonville in 2009. “A lot of proud kids, a lot of proud fans, and that’s what you get when you get top-of-the-line people out there.

“We may not have the best basketball players, but we have some great kids that compete.”

Senior guard Raheem Appleby tied the game at 60 with a putback in the lane with 1:11 left to play, and when the Warriors tried to stall for a final shot, Jacksonville sophomore Justin McCleary came away with a steal and set up Aikens for his game-winner.

That still gave Hall plenty of time, but Jamison Williams got another Red Devils steal, this one near mid-court, and Jacksonville ran out the remaining eight seconds.

“We just played sloppy,” Joyner said. “But the kids came back. We’ve never played sloppy like that, but two games in a row, we’ve played sloppy with our ball handling.

“But when your team comes back and guts it out like that when they’re playing that bad, coming to Hall to do that, you have to give the kids all kinds of credit.”

Jacksonville had already staged comebacks.

The first pulled the Devils from a 40-34 deficit to within one point before Hall took off again in the middle of the third quarter. Two free throws by Appleby with 6:35 left to play tied the game at 51 after the Warriors led 51-44 entering the final period.

Senior utility player David Rivers and senior post player Myles Taylor led the Warriors with 19 and 14 points respectively, but Appleby stole the show with a game-high 29 points, many coming on hard-nosed drives to the basket.

“Raheem is Raheem, he is going to do what he’s going to do,” Joyner said. “We’re just trying to make sure everybody else gets involved. We want people to know we have more people on this team other than Raheem.

“And everybody else has to keep stepping up to the plate and making big shots.”

While Appleby led the Devils (17-3, 6-3) offensively for the most part, McCleary provided the spark on defense that forced Hall turnovers and other mental errors at critical points.

“He’s been playing for us all year like that for a sophomore,” Joyner said. “He’s got to be ranked as one of the top sophomores around here. He’s been starting since ninth grade, and a lot of people are overlooking him, but he brings so much heart and passion out on the court.”

Taylor made one more run at Jacksonville with an inside basket followed by a transition dunk that gave the Warriors (15-7, 6-4) a 59-55 lead with 3:22 left to play.

But Xavier Huskey rebounded a miss by Dustin House and put it back, then drew a foul and converted the three-point play.

Post player Tee Brown was the lone casualty for the Red Devils when he fouled out with 1:41 left to play and sent Rivers to the free-throw line.

Rivers hit the first free throw but came up short on the second as Appleby pulled down the rebound for Jacksonville.

“I just try to get inside,” Appleby said.

“They’re not that fast, they’re just long, like big in height. They came in at our house and beat us by two earlier, so this was real big.”

McCleary added 14 points while House and Huskey each had five.

“Every last one of them is the same way,” Joyner said of the competitive nature of the 6A-East.

“It never stops in this conference, but that’s wonderful. I love the competition; the kids love the competition also.”

Joyner has praised his team’s effort and work ethic all season after challenging the players’ heart last year.

He said the Red Devils aren’t the type of team to celebrate big victories, like their double-digit triumph over Little Rock Parkview, one of the preseason favorites, at home earlier this year.

The Red Devils and Lady Red Devils played host to Jonesboro in a conference game at the Devils Den on Tuesday night and will play host Marion in conference games on Friday night.