Tuesday, November 29, 2011

SPORTS >> Red Devils set for tough week

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville boys basketball team’s win over North Pulaski last week seems to indicate the squad has bounced back from its disappointing season-opening loss to Mills. The Red Devils will find out in its upcoming set of games that includes some rigorous competition.

First up for Jacksonville is Little Rock McClellan. The Lions also have a big win over North Pulaski, and the southwest Little Rock campus is a notoriously tough place to play.

Following that Tuesday night matchup, Jacksonville heads over to Little Rock Hall on Saturday to take part in the Battle of the Border.

That event pits some of the best teams from the Little Rock area against some of the best from Memphis. Jacksonville takes the floor at 5 p.m. against Memphis Arlington. After that, Jacksonville takes part in the Wampus Cat Invitational at Conway that begins Monday.

Jacksonville’s biggest area of focus after the loss to Mills was turnovers. The Red Devils committed too many in that game. They were able to turn that tide in the win over the Falcons.

McClellan presents a different type of challenge than Mills. Instead of being small and quick like the Comets, McClellan is long, but still athletic.

Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner, who drove to Memphis to scout Saturday’s opponent, says Arlington is the team that looks a lot like Mills.

“They aren’t very big, but they are very quick and they put a lot of pressure on you,” Joyner said. “I think we’ve made progress with our guards because we’ve focused very much on taking care of the ball. But we’ll find out for sure this weekend how much progress we’ve made.”

It’s no wonder that Arlington plays tough defense. Its new coach is Memphis State legend Keith Lee, the West Memphis product who led the Tigers and their notorious defense to the NCAA Final Four in 1985.

Joyner suspects he may not have seen the whole team, but even the crew he saw still won the game Joyner watched by nearly 20 points.

“I haven’t found out for sure if they still have some kids in football,” Joyner said. “I heard they still had a couple of power forwards that weren’t with the team yet. So we may see a couple of guys Saturday that we didn’t see last week.”

Arlington didn’t run with the ball and force the tempo like many teams in the Little Rock area. The team features one of the top sophomore classes in Tennessee. Joyner was impressed with their poise.

“They looked really organized,” Joyner said. “They didn’t rush, they didn’t panic. They were very deliberate and didn’t get rattled. They were very poised for a young team.”

Joyner said the squad had two players of concern, a 6-3 shooter and short, powerful slasher.

“The tall guard was left handed and has a nice stroke from outside,” Joyner said. “The little guard looks like a football player. He’s really strong off the dribble. They didn’t look real deep, but those are two outstanding players that we’re going to have to contend with.”

Jacksonville gets a bye in the first round of the Conway tournament. They will have almost a full week off between games after Saturday.

The first round begins Monday with Jonesboro playing Bentonville. The winner of that game plays Conway on Friday. Jacksonville also plays Friday against the winner of a 6 p.m. Tuesday matchup between North Pulaski and Fayetteville.