Tuesday, January 17, 2012

SPORTS >> Red Devils pummel Searcy

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner has battled his team’s lack of intensity most of the season. It appeared his message finally got across after a conference opening loss to Hall when his team pounded undefeated and nationally ranked Parkview.

What he saw in the next game wasn’t a lack of intensity, but more like downright lethargy, at least for a half. In the end, Jacksonville picked up the energy level and routed the Searcy Lions 62-31 at home, and that was good enough for Joyner.

“A win is a win in this league,” Joyner said. “This is not a rah, rah type team, but they know how to get out there and take care of business. I just don’t think they felt threatened by Searcy early on. We didn’t really change anything from one half to the other. They just finally realized they weren’t going to be able to go out there and give a half-hearted effort and blow them away. They picked it up in the second half and played like they’re capable of.”

The Lions’ clear intention was to slow the pace and try to keep the ball away from the Red Devils. On occasion, Searcy’s offense resembled a modified version of the age-old, five-man weave with Jacksonville defenders chasing the ball as it passed from one Lion to another without ever moving beyond the perimeter.

The main problem with Searcy’s offense early is that the Lions couldn’t make shots. Jacksonville wasn’t much better, but dominated the boards and got second-chance points. Jacksonville held a slim 11-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The Red Devils’ defensive intensity improved dramatically in the second quarter, but this time it was the home team that couldn’t get anything to fall offensively.

Junior small forward Keith Charleston was the lone offensive threat for Jacksonville in the second period. He scored all six of his points in that frame, slashing inside and showing a nice touch from short and mid-range.

“We’ve been trying to get Keith to come on,” Joyner said. “He’s got potential he hasn’t unlocked yet.”

Charleston’s six was two-thirds of Jacksonville’s total in the period, but the defense held Searcy to just three, making it 20-12 at halftime.

The tempo is the second half was more to Jacksonville’s liking. The Red Devils more than doubled their offensive output from the first half, thanks mostly to better defense and shooting.

But Searcy kept pace for most of the third quarter. With two minutes left in the frame, Jacksonville had added just one point to its lead at 34-25, but that’s when the rout began.

Junior guard Justin McCleary led the charge. In the game’s final 10 minutes, Jacksonville got 12 of its 21 total steals, with McCleary picking up three of them.

Aaron Smith, Dewayne Waller, David Johnson and Tirrell Brown also got multiple steals in the game.

The steals created layups, which increased Jacksonville’s shooting percentage. Searcy, trailing and needing to play catchup, had to abandon the slow-down offense and try to score quickly. The Lions simply couldn’t keep up with Jacksonville in that type of game.

From late in the third to the final minute of play, Jacksonville put together a 28-4 run to blow the game wide open. The Red Devils’ lead peaked at 62-29 before Searcy added the last basket to set the final margin.

Jacksonville’s scoring was very balanced. Ten Red Devils scored in the game with McCleary leading the way with 12. He had an impressive game down the line. He also led the team in rebounds with six, and steals with five. Brown finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four steals. Xavier Huskey added nine points for Jacksonville.

The Red Devils (11-3, 2-1) hosted league-leading Jonesboro on Tuesday, and will play Marion at home on Friday.