Wednesday, January 30, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils slip past Lions

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville took a big step towards a conference championship on Saturday, barely escaping a home game with Little Rock McClellan with a 63-60 victory and finishing the first round robin of the 5A Central competition in first place with a 7-0 record. The Red Devils and Crimson Lions entered the game with 6-0 conference records, and played like two teams equally matched.

Jacksonville never trailed, but never had complete control of the game either. The Red Devils stretched out double digit leads three times. McClellan battled back to within a point each time, but was never able to take a lead.

“That was just toughness,” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said. “They just battled. They were facing a team with some strengths we don’t have. They were facing a team making a charge and threatening to take over the game, and they fought them off. That game was won with mental toughness.”

Senior guard Kevin Richardson only scored two baskets coming off the bench, but they were back to back and they were two of the biggest buckets of the game.

The Lions had battled back from a 12-point deficit to pull within 57-56 with 2:33 left in the game. After a defensive stop they had possession with a chance to take the lead, but Richardson flashed into the passing lane on a McClellan skip pass, leaped high into the air for the steal then took it the distance for a layup at the other end.

McClellan’s Tronsayne Ellis hit two free throws to again make it a one-point game with 1:17 to play. Jacksonville missed its first attempt at the other end, but Richardson went high for a tip in that bounced high off the backboard and fell in for a 61-58 Jacksonville lead with 39 seconds remaining.

Ellis missed at the other end and Jacksonville’s Sergio Berkley got the rebound. Berkley got trapped on the baseline immediately after coming down with the long rebound, and Jacksonville caught a break.

Two whistles almost blew simultaneously at the 12-second mark. One official was going to call jump ball, but the other had just signaled timeout for Joyner, who was calling it from the bench.

Aaron Smith was fouled with 10 seconds left after the timeout and hit them both. McClellan scored and called timeout with three seconds remaining. Jacksonville got the inbounds pass in to Justin McCleary, who simply turned and threw high into the air and towards and open spot on the floor to run out the clock.

One of the strengths Mc-Clellan has that Jacksonville doesn’t is size, but that didn’t show up in the final statistics. The Red Devils (13-4) dominated the inside, outrebounding the Lions 35-15 and getting a combined 27 points from its post players while holding McClellan to just 14 points in the paint.

McClellan coach Chris Threatt zeroed in on the rebounding totals, but with a positive spin.

“When you consider we rebounded that poorly and only lost by three points on their home court, it means we were successful at taking some things away from them that they’re used to getting,” Threatt said. “If we can correct that and not let any other part of our game suffer, it should put us in good position to have a different outcome next time.”

The loss snapped a 10-game winning streak for the Lions (12-6, 6-1), after starting the season 2-5 against a brutal schedule.

Jacksonville got its first double-digit lead with an 11-3 run early in the second quarter that made it 24-14. A few minutes later the lead grew to 30-19, but McClellan closed the first half with a 7-0 run to make it a four-point game. Jacksonville opened the second half with a 9-1 run to take its biggest lead of the game at 39-27 with 5:20 left in the third quarter.

McClellan answered immediately with an 8-2 run and never trailed by more than six the rest of the way.

The Lions were sparked by their bench. Davion Givens led the comeback in the third quarter by hitting four of his five three pointers. He finished with a team-high 15 points. Ellis led the charge for the Lions in the fourth, scoring nine of his 11 points in that final frame.

Aaron Smith led Jacksonville with 18 points, including hitting all three of his three-point attempts. Sophomore post player Kanaan Jackson and senior post Khaleel Hart each scored 10.

Saturday’s game was a makeup for the two team’s scheduled Jan. 15 game that was postponed due to bad weather. It was Jacksonville’s second win in two days. The night before the Red Devils put an emphatic end to Sylvan Hills’ brief winning streak, punishing the Bears 78-34 at the Devils’ Den.

McCleary led the Red Devils with 16 points in very limited minutes. Jackson scored 13 and Douglas Matthews added 11. A total of 13 Red Devils scored in the game.