Monday, January 20, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils surge late, beat Falcons

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils are developing a habit of being in tight games through three quarters and winning handily. That’s what happened on Tuesday when the Red Devils turned a five-point game into a 16-point win, beating crosstown rival North Pulaski 66-50 at the Devil’s Den. Jacksonville, 13-3, 3-0, was also in a scrap with Little Rock Christian in its previous game before blowing out the Warriors by 33.

Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner welcomes the new trend. He watched his team struggle over and over in the second half earlier in the season; often blowing huge leads in the second half. But the head Red Devil still wasn’t entirely pleased with Tuesday’s performance.

“That was an ugly game,” said Joyner. “Both teams. I’m sure Roy (North Pulaski coach Roy Jackson) wasn’t very happy either. These kids won’t settle down and run their sets. We’ve got people too worried about their points, taking one dribble and shooting.”

If the action wasn’t adroit, it was exciting, especially in the first half. The archrivals went back and forth throughout the first two quarters. There were six ties and seven lead changes.

The visiting team went up 5-2 after Arren Scruggs hit a three pointer, but Jacksonville dominated on the glass and went on an 8-0 run, with seven points coming on second-chance opportunities. But North Pulaski answered right back with six straight to take an 11-10 lead with 3:38 remaining in the opening quarter. At that point, the Falcons were 5 for 5 shooting, but their inability to keep Jacksonville off the offensive glass kept the home team close early.

North Pulaski led 14-12 until freshman Tyree Appleby drained a three pointer at the buzzer to end the third quarter with the game’s fourth lead change.

Jacksonville threatened to run away late in the second quarter. Sophomore guard LaQuawn Smith sparked a Jacksonville run with two steals that turned into points for the Red Devils. Smith also scored four points and had four rebounds in the second quarter as the Red Devils built a 30-22 lead.

North Pulaski, 8-6, 1-2, answered right back with eight in a row for the sixth and final tie of the first half. Another Scruggs three pointer, his third, finished the run and tied the score with 30 seconds left in the half. Jacksonville’s Sergio Berkley sent the home team into the locker room with the lead when he hit a three pointer at the buzzer.

North Pulaski’s RaShawn Langston quickly tied the game again with a three-point play to open the second half. Jacksonville post player Kanaan Jackson took over for a period from that point. Jackson and fellow post Tedrick Wolfe combined to score the next eight points of the game. North Pulaski closed to within 45-40 by the start of the fourth quarter, but could never tie or take the lead the rest of the way.

Jacksonville scored the first six points of the fourth quarter. Smith capped the run with a nifty spin move for an open layup that made it 51-40 and forced coach Jackson to call timeout 1:50 into the fourth quarter.

The margin was still at 11 points with 4:21 remaining when Roy Jackson was hit with a technical foul. Devin Campbell made both free throws and North Pulaski never got any closer the rest of the way.

The Red Devils put a stamp on the win with 56 seconds left when Damarion Freeman lobbed a pass to a soaring Wolfe for an alley-oop dunk.

“It really came down to rebounding and free throws,” Roy Jackson said. “They beat us on the boards. I think (Kanaan) Jackson had 12 points, and not once did he get the ball on the low block and turn and score. They all came on putbacks. We just didn’t do a good job there. And we didn’t hit free throws. We didn’t shoot nearly as many as they did, and we didn’t make the ones we got.

“But I was proud of my kids. That’s an emotional game and they played hard. They fought back a couple of times. Things just didn’t go our way.”

North Pulaski made just 4 of 13 free-throw attempts while Jacksonville hit 19 of 31. The Red Devils, however, made 11 of 13 in the fourth quarter to keep North Pulaski at bay. North Pulaski hit 21 of 57 shot attempts while Jacksonville went 22 of 60. The Red Devils outrebounded the Falcons 40-29. Kanaan Jackson finished with 18 rebounds to go with his 12 points. Wolfe and Berkley also scored 12 each while Smith led the Red Devils with 14.

Langston led all scorers with 21 points while Scruggs added 14.