Saturday, March 02, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Devils stick fork in Eagles

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils toyed with the Huntsville Eagles in the first round of the class 5A playoffs Tuesday at the Pine Bluff Convention Center. Jacksonville won 74-43 going with wholesale substitutions halfway through each quarter.

Huntsville actually outscored Jacksonville’s substitutes, but when the Red Devils starters were in the game, they outscored the Eagles 53-10.

“To me the first game is the hardest, so it was good to come out playing hard and making shots,” Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner said. “We’ve got much better teams coming up so we’re not going to put too much into this one.”

While Joyner was hesitant to heap praise on the starters’ stellar play, he wasn’t overly concerned with his bench’s lack of effectiveness either.

“That was wholesale substitutions there,” Joyner said. “We were 12 deep in the first half. That’s third string. We played everybody by halfway through the third quarter and we weren’t playing them with any starters. It’s going to get tougher the deeper we go. When we get to that point, we’ll sub player for player and not a whole lineup at a time.”

Jacksonville (22-4) scored the first 15 points of the game without team leader Justin McCleary taking a shot. The starters left the game with 3:30 remaining in the first quarter with a 15-2 lead. It was 20-7 by the end of the first.

With Jacksonville’s starters back in the game to start the second, Huntsville’s Logan McCullough hit a three to make it 20-10. Jacksonville’s Sergio Berkley answered with his own three pointer just 11 seconds later, a shot thats parked an 18-0 run that included a torrent of points by McCleary.

The senior point guard scored eight points in 34 seconds. Then after a defensive stop, drained a third-consecutive three pointer for 11 straight points and a 34-10 lead. Berkley got a transition layup after another Jacksonville steal, and Aaron Smith added two free throws with 4:26 left in the half to make it 38-10.

After another wholesale substitution by Joyner, Hunstville went on a 10-0 run to cut the margin to 38-20 with 1:12 left in the half. Khaleel Hart hit a nifty shot in the lane against Huntsville center Ricky Scott with 36 seconds remaining to set the halftime score at 40-20.

Huntsville (17-9) didn’t score a field goal against the Jacksonville starters in the third quarter, but the Red Devils were no longer as hot from the floor as they were at the beginning of the game. Hart, who started most of the season with 6-foot-7 senior Keith Charleston out with injury, played with the starters in the third quarter. He pulled down two rebounds and got two steals that created transition buckets while Jacksonville briefly struggled in its half-court game.

The Red Devils led 51-22 when the starters left the floor with 3:30 remaining in the third. That lead was trimmed to 55-32 by quarter’s end, mostly on the strength of Huntsville senior post player Garrett Weiland’s play. Weiland didn’t get on the floor in the first half, but finished the game with 12 points to lead the Eagles in scoring.

The starters took the floor one more time to start the fourth quarter and could only push the lead to 63-36 before being taken out with 4:13 left in the game.

The Jacksonville backups won the fourth quarter 11-8, enacting the mercy rule on two free throws by Hart with 1:39 remaining.

Smith led all scorers and three Red Devils in double figures with 18 points. He added five rebounds, four steals and three assists to his stat sheet as well. McCleary finished with 15, six assists and three steals while Berkley added 13 points.

Jacksonville had a 20-4 advantage in rebounding in the first half and finished the game with a 36-12 advantage. Jacksonville made 26 of 50 field goals in the game, but hit 14 of their first 18 shots, including their first five three pointers in a row. The Red Devils hit 7 of 10 three pointers in the first half and finished 9 for 15.

Jacksonville got 13 steals in forcing 22 Huntsville turnovers, while committing just six turnovers the entire game, four of which came in the second quarter.