Tuesday, December 04, 2012

SPORT STORY >> Red Devils solid at Border Battle

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils did their part to give Arkansas a victory in the Battle of the Border event at Little Rock Hall on Saturday. The Red Devils beat Olive Branch, Miss. 75-61 to bounce back in a big way from a season-opening loss last Tuesday.

In five games pitting teams from the Little Rock area against teams from the Memphis area, Arkansas teams won three. Parkview beat Memphis-Hamilton 81-80 while North Little Rock trounced Memphis-East 74-42. Memphis Lusuanne beat McClellan 72-59 and Memphis White Station beat Hall 59-53 to close the event.

“That’s one of the premier teams in the state of Mississippi,” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said.

Jacksonville guard Justin McCleary stole the show. Though his career-high 30 points wasn’t the game’s highest total, McCleary was the most impressive player on the floor. Conquistador Sam Craft led all scorers with 34 points, but most of his damage from the three-point and free-throw lines. McCleary penetrated and created.

“I said before the season people were going to see a different Justin McCleary,” Joyner said. “We want him to score. He’s a three-year starter, and he’s sacrificed his shot to create for other people. Now it’s his time to score and show he’s got that part to his game too. He hasn’t had a whole lot of Division I attention so far, but he’s going to get it playing like that. He’s a special player.”

Craft single-handedly kept Olive Branch in the game. He scored 24 of his team’s 38 points in the second half. He only scored five points in the second quarter, but all five came just when the Red Devils were threatening to blow the game open.

Jacksonville led 15-13 when it went on a 21-2 run while Craft grabbed a breather on the bench. Craft re-entered the game and nailed a three-pointer to spark a Conquistador run that closed the margin to 14 by halftime. Olive Branch also won the third quarter 19-15, but Jacksonville answered with a run early in the fourth to grab control and seal the win.

Jacksonville dominated the rebounding category. The Red Devils had a 39-18 advantage, led by guard Aaron Smith’s 10. Smith also had 12 points for his first double-double of the season.

“Aaron is one of the few kids that got significant minutes last year,” Joyner said. “He’s ready to stroll onto the scene also. We have some kids that hadn’t really been introduced to the public yet. These kids aren’t bad ball players and it’s time for them to step up and shine.”

The only statistic Jacksonville didn’t win was turnovers. The Red Devils committed 19 turnovers while OBHS gave it up 16 times. That follows 21 turnovers Jacksonville committed in its season opener. Joyner expects that to get better as the season progresses.

“We need games,” Joyner said. “Decision making is always a concern. But when you’re playing 15 kids like I’ve been playing, you’re playing some kids that are just now getting their time. Just like with rebounding. We watched the tape, they saw what they were doing and what they weren’t doing, and they went out and corrected it. They just need games.”

Jacksonville (1-1) will face Harrison at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Conway Invitational, then will play Bryant at 5:30 Friday also at Conway.