Tuesday, February 12, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Devils take first in thriller

Leader sports editor

In one of the most dramatic finishes of the season, Jacksonville’s Keith Charleston ripped the ball away from McClellan’s Terrance Jones, and along with it sole possession of first place in the 5A Central Conference. The steal came with one second left and thwarted a game-winning shot opportunity as the Red Devils held on for a 42-41 victory at McClellan High School in southwest Little Rock.

As the final buzzer sounded, Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner was much more emotional than usual.

“Because it was such an ugly game,” Joyner said. “To play as poorly as we did and still fight and claw and find a way to get a win in a game as big as this, that’s exciting.”

The hosting Crimson Lions led for a total of 31 seconds in the first three quarters. They held a two-point lead for 17 seconds in the second quarter, and a two-point lead for 14 seconds in the third. Jacksonville (18-4, 10-1) led 35-31 by the end of the third quarter, but McClellan (15-7, 9-2) started the fourth period with a 6-0 run for a 37-35 lead with 5:50 remaining in the game. That lead didn’t last long either. Jacksonville’s Sergio Berkley scored on the next possession to tie the game just 32 seconds later. About two minutes later, he hit two free throws to put Jacksonville back on top.

Jones tied it with a 15-footer with 2:21 to play. After a fruitless possession by each team, Jones missed a three pointer, Jacksonville’s Justin McCleary got the rebound, but was stripped by Tronsayne Ellis, who dished to Tyrin Hollis for a layup and a 41-39 McClellan lead with 1:10 left in the game.

Joyner called timeout with 59 seconds left. After the timeout, Jacksonville caught a big break. Ellis got another steal on in the inbound pass, but was called for double dribble as he made his way towards the Lions’ goal.

Berkley penetrated the lane on the ensuing possession and missed, but got a trip to the free-throw line on a foul call that McClellan coach Chris Threatt was not pleased with. Berkley hit one of two free throws and Jacksonville set up the press trailing by one point with 16 seconds remaining.

Jacksonville’s Brandon Brockman stripped Jones from behind along the sideline just as Jones crossed the halfcourt line. Brockman threw to McCleary who hit Charleston under the basket for a layup and a 42-41 Jacksonville lead with nine seconds remaining. Threatt called timeout to set up the last play, which saw Charleston strip Jones as he penetrated into the lane.

Threatt was vocal about his displeasure in the way the game was called in the final minute.

“If an official wants to swallow his whistle and let the players decide the game, I have no problem with that,” Threatt said. “But if you’re going to swallow it there right at the end, then swallow it at their end too. How do you call a foul like the one they called down there (motioning to Jacksonville’s end of the floor), then swallow it for essentially the same play down here?”

Threatt also wasn’t happy with the foul count in the second half.

“How is it that you have both teams pressing, both teams playing aggressive defense, but you have a foul count of 9-3 for the whole second half,” Threatt said. “Three fouls for an entire half in a game played as physically as this game was played.”

As far as his team is concerned, Threatt was pleased with the effort. He believed his team showed improvement since its dramatic three-point loss to the Red Devils at Jacksonville.

“I think we were better,” Threatt said. “We didn’t get the win, but I’ll just let the game speak for itself on why that didn’t happen.”

Jacksonville again dominated rebounding against the larger Lions, though not by quite as much as the 36-15 advantage it enjoyed in the last game. The Red Devils won 37-23 on the boards on Friday with Charleston and Brockman leading the way with eight each.

The turnover problem reared its head again for Jacksonville, as the Red Devils committed 24, the most since mid-December.

Aaron Smith was the only Red Devil to score in double figures, finishing with 10 points. McCleary and Brockman scored eight apiece.

McClellan’s Derrick Hardy led all scorers and rebounders with 15 points and nine boards.

The Red Devils hosted Helena-West Helena Central on Tuesday, then host a big home game on Friday against Pulaski Academy. The Red Devils needed overtime to beat the Bruins when the two teams met in Little Rock a month ago.