Tuesday, November 26, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils win Classic

Leader sportswriter

The Jacksonville boys went 3-0 in the 16th annual Searcy Bank Classic, and clinched the tournament championship with a close 53-48 win over class 6A Benton on Saturday at the Searcy High School gymnasium.

Jacksonville (4-0), the defending class 5A state champion, trailed the Panthers (1-2) by a point at halftime, but opened the second half with a 7-0 run to lead 34-28 with just over three-and-a-half minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Benton called timeout, and after the Panthers took the inbound pass at half court, point guard Clay Anderson held the ball at half court until only seconds remained in the third quarter. Running one final play, senior forward Josh Bowling scored a basket inside with just four ticks remaining to cut the Jacksonville lead to 34-30 by the end of the period.

“It’s still a work in progress,” said Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner. “That’s a good Benton team. They’ve got a couple of Division-I players. To gut it out like that and come back, they showed a lot of heart and desire.

“But still, we made so many mistakes because they don’t know how to play with the intensity on this level for a whole game. There are a lot of little things they can’t do well. We’ve just been blessed to get to 4-0 right now, because we could easily be 0-4.”

A three-pointer by Benton sophomore guard Cason Maertens at the start of the fourth period narrowed the Red Devils’ lead to one, and with 4:48 to play, an and-one by Bowling knotted up the score at 40 apiece.

Jacksonville had an answer for just about every Benton basket in the final quarter, but that didn’t deter the Panthers’ efforts. With 2:14 remaining, Maertens drained another three from the same spot he did at the start of the quarter, which tied the score at 45-45.

Junior Red Devil Devin Campbell missed a baseline three on the following possession, but junior forward Tedric Wolfe tipped in the basket to put the Red Devils back up 47-45. Jacksonville’s defense managed to contain Benton’s scoring efforts, and with 46 seconds to play, the Panthers had to foul.

Unfortunately for Benton, it fouled the wrong guy. Veteran and leading scorer Sergio Berkley was sent to the line for a one-and-one situation, and Berkley wasn’t at all phased by the moment as he calmly drained both free throws to extend the Devils’ lead to 49-45.

Jacksonville’s defense held yet again, and Berkley was once again sent to the line with 17.4 seconds remaining. After he calmly drained two more free throws, Blake Bowlin hit a three-pointer with 8.8 ticks remaining to cut the Panther deficit to 51-48.

Berkley once again got open on the inbound pass, and with his team ahead by three with six seconds to play, he went to line for another one-and-one opportunity. Berkley calmly made the first attempt to seal the game and tournament title for the Red Devils, and he made the second one to set the final score.

“He’s been there,” Joyner said of Berkley. “He doesn’t get rattled because he’s seen it all. He’s been a part of two championship runs, and he’s a champion. He wants the ball in big situations, and that’s just Sergio. That’s how Sergio is.”

Berkley’s 6 for 6 showing at the line was huge for Jacksonville in the waning seconds, but as a team, the Red Devils shot well throughout the four quarters played, making 18 of 22 free throws for 82 percent. Benton was perfect at the line, making 6 of 6 attempts.

The two respective teams were comparable at the three-point line, as Jacksonville made 5 of 14 attempts for 36 percent, which was a slightly better percentage than the Panthers’ 35 on 6 of 17 shooting.

Jacksonville outrebounded Benton 24-20, and committed one fewer turnover with six. The Red Devils committed just one turnover in the second half, but Benton committed zero after turning it over seven times in the first two quarters played.

Berkley led all scorers with 19 points, while Wolfe added 13 and Campbell nine for Jacksonville. Maertens led Benton with 14 points. Bowlin scored 12, and Bowling recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Jacksonville opened the tournament with a 70-66 win over the tournament host on Thursday, and on Friday, walloped fellow class 5A-member Greenbrier 71-52 to stay unbeaten.

The Red Devils will be off until Dec. 3 when they travel to West Memphis for a nonconference game with the class 7A Blue Devils. Jacksonville narrowly beat West Memphis in its season opener 68-65 on Nov. 15.