Tuesday, December 10, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Falcons, Red Devils tipping off in Conway

Leader sportswriter

The winter storm that spread across the state last week led to a brief halt in the high school sports schedule, but the Jacksonville and North Pulaski boys’ basketball teams will take the floor for the first time since the unscheduled break in today’s opening rounds of the annual John Stanton Wampus Cat Invitational at Conway High School.

The tournament was originally scheduled to begin on Monday, but was moved to today in order to better accommodate the traveling teams and their fans.

Jacksonville (4-1) will play an improved Harrison team in its first-round game tonight at 5:30, while North Pulaski (3-1) is scheduled to take on tournament newcomer Hot Springs in the nightcap at 8:30.

Red Devils’ coach Vic Joyner got to see Harrison in action earlier this season, and says the Golden Goblins look better than they did a year ago, especially at the guard positions.

“I saw them play Searcy,” said Joyner, “and they’ve got five or six guys that can shoot it. They were kind of a one-man show last year. They had one guard that some nights might score 30 (points), and would kind of exclude other people from shooting. But this year they have more of a well-rounded team, and that makes them a lot more dangerous.”

Jacksonville started the season red hot with four-straight wins, but suffered its first loss in its most recent game to date against West Memphis on Dec. 3. The Red Devils narrowly beat that same Blue Devils team in the season opener, but lost 70-57 in the rematch.

Joyner said his team can be its own worst enemy at times, and would like to see his players play with more cohesiveness when they take the floor this evening.

“I just want them to come out and be unified – everybody pulling for each other. I just want them to come out and execute,” Joyner said. “Right now we’re not finishing off defensive series. After the West Memphis game, we realized we’ve got stuff to fix. We’ve got a whole new cast of characters, and this team is far from being a team right now.”

North Pulaski won its last game played, which was Nov. 30 against Maumelle at Philander Smith College in Little Rock. The Falcons were scheduled to play at Lonoke last Friday, but that game was canceled because of the icy weather.

“I think we’re all kind of in the same boat,” said Falcons’ coach Roy Jackson about the unexpected break. “I don’t know about Hot Springs. I’m sure they’ve probably been in school and have probably been practicing, but we’re going to see how it goes.

“As always, any time you’ve got time off like this, you’re always eager to get back in the gym. The kids want to get back in and get some shooting in, get their rhythm down – get back out (on the court) and get their rhythm down. As a coach, you never want your kids off too long, because they lose a lot of things they’ve been working on.”

The Falcons have had their struggles at times on the defensive end of the court since their season began in November, but they’ve more than made up for it on offense more times than not, as they’ve lit up the scoreboard in their four games played with their fast-pace, uptempo style.

This is Jackson’s third year as the head Falcon, and he’s entered his North Pulaski teams into this tournament all three years. Jackson said participating in this tournament is always a great opportunity to test his players against some stellar competition in a great playoff-style atmosphere.

“Overall, I think it’s a good tournament and a good test,” Jackson said. “I love going up there because you’ve got good teams. It’s a good atmosphere, because it gives you that playoff-type of atmosphere. When you go up there, it gives you a good gauge on how your team will be later on in the year.”

The other four teams participating in the tournament are Fayetteville, Pine Bluff, Bryant and the host team. Fayetteville will open the tournament against Pine Bluff. The winner of that game will play the Jacksonville/Harrison winner on Friday.

In the top part of the bracket, Conway will compete against Bryant, and the North Pulaski/Hot Springs winner will battle the winner of that game, also on Friday. Each team will play three games in the invitational, and barring any setbacks, the tournament is scheduled to wrap up on Saturday with the championship game scheduled to be played at 8:30 that evening.