Saturday, February 23, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Third-quarter run lifts Devils

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils found themselves in a major tussle in their regular-season finale Tuesday at Sylvan Hills. A small adjustment at halftime and laser-accuracy shooting by senior guard Justin McCleary in the third quarter lifted the visiting team to a 64-51 win in Sherwood.

The game was tied at 23 at halftime, but McCleary hit 4 of 4 three-point attempts in the third quarter and Jacksonville made 6 of 6 in the second half to move out in front.

“We spread things out a little more with our guards and we got some open looks at threes with the skip pass,” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said. “We ran that play a few times to J-Mac and he knocked them down. That pulled them out and it opened up the inside for us. It was a small adjustment but it made a big difference.”

Sylvan Hills’ Aumonie Armond scored the first bucket of the third quarter to give the Bears a 25-23 lead. He also hit two free throws a minute later to make it 27-25, which was the last time Sylvan Hills led in the game.

McCleary then reeled off 14 straight points in a two-minute and 17-second span to give Jacksonville a 39-27 lead with 3:51 left in the third quarter. He scored 16 in the third quarter and finished as the game’s leading scorer with 23 points despite taking just one shot and not scoring at all in the fourth.

“He didn’t have to score in the fourth quarter because the middle was open for us,” Joyner said. “We either got it down to our bigs or we got penetration because we had them spread out.”

Jacksonville led 47-32 at the end of the third quarter and pushed the lead to 17 twice in the fourth. Despite the big deficit, the Bears had one more push left, but a huge blunder put an end to it with 1:30 left in the game.

Sylvan Hills pulled to within 56-48 on an Armond three pointer. Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis quickly called timeout with 1:40 left. After the break, the Bears forced a turnover and called timeout at the 1:30 mark. That’s where the blunder came in.

Sylvan Hills sent had only four players on the floor out of the timeout. A forced shot was stripped away by Jacksonville’s Brandon Brockman and there was no safety valve back on defense for Sylvan Hills. It resulted in an uncontested layup and a 10-point lead for Jacksonville with 1:15 remaining.

“It was just a sophomore mistake,” Davis said of the player that failed to take the floor. “He let another player tell him he was out after I told him he was in. When you’re dealing with the kind of inexperience we have, you’re going to have moments like that. We’ve had them all year. That’s the first time we’ve gone out there with four, but we’ve gone out there with six before. I’m still very proud of how hard they battled to get back in it. I’m really looking forward to seeing what this group can accomplish next year. I think they exceeded everyone’s expectations this year.”

They certainly exceeded people’s expectations in the first half on Tuesday, especially after quickly falling behind 14-3 in the first quarter. The Bears closed the gap to 14-8 by the end of the first, and a Cordy Winston three pointer capped a 15-2 run and gave the Bears an 18-16 lead with 4:15 remaining in the half.

The two teams were even on the boards with 27 rebounds each.

Jacksonville’s Aaron Smith finished with 18 points. Sylvan Hills’ Trajan Doss was the only other player to score in double figures with 11.

Both teams shot very poorly in the first half. Sylvan Hills was just 8 of 28 at halftime and finished the game making 17 of 54 attempts.

Jacksonville made 9 of 30 in the first half, but 13 of 25 in the second. Neither team shot free throws well. Sylvan Hills made 10 of 19 while Jacksonville hit 12 of 20. Both teams made seven three pointers, but Sylvan Hills took 22 shots from outside while Jacksonville just 12.

The Bears’ season ends while Jacksonville prepares to play Huntsville in the first round of the state tournament.

The Red Devils will face Huntsville at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.