Tuesday, December 11, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils win first place

Leader sports editor

CONWAY – The Jacksonville boys got their fourth-straight victory and won first place in the Wampus Cat Invitational on Saturday, beating the Pine Bluff Zebras 68-54 in the tournament championship game.

Despite the first-place trophy on the line, Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner treated the game like any other early-season game. He put 16 different players on the court and tried several different combinations of players. He even benched leading scorer and point guard Justin McCleary the entire third quarter, despite the fact that Pine Bluff had trimmed a 13-point first-half deficit to just five by halftime.

Joyner insisted it was nothing more than player preparation.

“Justin didn’t do anything wrong,” Joyner said about not letting his top scorer play when the game was close. “It’s all about January and getting ready for conference. I wanted to see what some other players looked like out there with the starters. It’s nice to win these tournaments and the kids like having those trophies, but I’m thinking about the games that are really going to matter. We lost a game here last year doing this same thing.”

For the first time this season, Joyner left the whole starting lineup on the floor the entire first quarter. They jumped out to an 18-7 lead before Pine Bluff’s Ricky Clements hit a three pointer in the waning seconds to make it 18-10. A whole new five took the floor for Jacksonville to start the second period and Pine Bluff climbed back into the game. The Zebras got a little help when it was discovered that the wrong number was entered into the scorebook for Jacksonville’s Kanaan Jackson. That resulted in a technical foul and a four-point possession for Pine Bluff.

Jacksonville led 33-28 at halftime, and threatened to blow the game open in the third. The Zebras stayed in the game with outside shooting, and got some help from Jacksonville turnovers.

“We’ve been able to win so far, but turnovers have been a persistent problem for us all season,” Joyner said. “We have got to start taking better care of the basketball. Most of them were unforced. They weren’t pressing us hard because we broke it early and got some easy baskets. We just aren’t playing smart right now. And either that’s going to change, or some personnel is going to change.”

Guard Reggie Barnes, who didn’t play in the first half, started the third quarter in place of McCleary and hit two three pointers. As did senior guard Aaron Smith, who led all scorers with 20 points. Smith hit 8 of 11 shot attempts. He was 4 of 7 from three-point range and almost made it a double-double with nine rebounds. He also had three steals and two assists.

Jacksonville dominated on the boards. The Red Devils pulled down 34 rebounds to just 18 for Pine Bluff. Jacksonville has not lost the rebounding battle since its season opening loss to North Little Rock.

Post player Keith Charleston did record his third double-double this season, scoring 10 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Sergio Berkley played his best game in the semifinal win over Conway, and followed that with another solid performance against Pine Bluff. He finished with nine points, two steals and four assists. McCleary finished with a very consistent stat line. He had five points, five steals and five assists.

Jacksonville plays Jonesboro on Saturday in the AR Preps Shootout at Maumelle High School.