Tuesday, January 07, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Devils change approach, beat Rockets Friday

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils enter conference play on a five-game winning streak after beating Little Rock Catholic 59-42 Friday at the Devils’ Den gymnasium. Jacksonville trailed for most of the first half, but a change in how to attack the Rockets’ 1-2-2 zone defense made the difference in the second half.

The change wasn’t so much one of strategy, but of implementation of the original strategy.

“In the second half, they finally started doing what they were asked to do,” said Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner. “We had to attack the middle. They jumped into that 1-2-2, sort of 3-2 look and extended it out. The ball needed to be either driven inside, or passed inside. We didn’t do that in the first half. We settled for jumpers.”

Jacksonville attempted 10 three-point shots in the first half and made just two, one in each quarter. In the second half, guards Sergio Berkley and Devin Campbell attacked the rim more often, and got the ball inside to post player Kanaan Jackson. Those three led the Red Devils in scoring. Campbell had 22, Berkley 12 and Jackson 10 points.

“It’s hard to not shoot a wide-open three, and they were just giving them to us,” Joyner said. “But when you’re shooting at a low percentage, you have to know to try something else. At halftime I just told them to pass those up and concentrate on getting it inside. Once we did that and had some success, it got them out of that zone and into a man, and they couldn’t hold us in man.”

Catholic ran its offense very well in the first quarter. Point guard Chad Wharton had four assists in the first quarter, repeatedly finding open teammates near the basket. Wharton finished the game with just five assists, and two factors played a role in that. One was foul trouble. He picked up his third foul early in the second quarter and sat the rest of the half. He got his fourth right away in the third quarter, and fouled out shortly after taking the floor in the fourth.

The other factor was simply better defense by Jacksonville.

“Catholic is patient, passing the ball 20, 30 times waiting for that guy to come open under the basket. That’s why I like playing them in nonconference because you have to be disciplined on defense and it gives you an idea of where you’re at. But in the first quarter, they didn’t even have to pass it four or five times. We had a lot of breakdowns, trapping, people not rotating and leaving people under the goal. They’re waiting for you to make a mistake and we gave them opportunities in the first half. We did a lot better in the second half. Again, that’s why I like playing them.”

The Rockets built a 19-11 lead with 45 seconds left in the first quarter when Lance Thomas got a putback. Jacksonville’s Reggie Barnes hit a three pointer before the end of the half to make it a five-point game.

Jacksonville’s defense began turning things around in the second quarter, making it a one-point deficit at 26-25 at halftime, until the offense could catch up and take over.

Starting with Barnes’ three at the end of the first quarter, Jacksonville went on a 12-2 run, but it was a slow run. Back-to-back steals by Berkley and Tedrick Wolfe ended in layups and a 23-21 Jacksonville lead with three minutes left in the half.

After that, the game turned into a turnover contest. Jacksonville forced four turnovers in the final 2:50 of the half, but committed six in that time.

Jacksonville started the third quarter with a 10-2 run to take a 35-28 lead. LaQuan Smith got two steals on consecutive possessions. The first resulted in a missed shot, the second ended with Jackson feeding Campbell in transition for a three-point play.

Catholic came right back with six straight to make it a one-point game with 2:30 left in the third quarter.

Jacksonville led 38-36 with 30 seconds left when Jarvis McChriston scored all four of his points. He hit one of two free throws before Jacksonville forced a turnover.

McChriston got the ball out on the wing with 10 seconds left and lost it off his knee. The ball rolled between his defender’s legs. McChriston ran around the defender, scooped up the loose ball and drained a three pointer at the buzzer for a 42-26 lead and the momentum.

“We tell them to give quality minutes when you’re out there,” Joyner said. “All of them want to play the whole game and that can’t happen. So we tell them to make them count when you’re out there. Jarvis probably didn’t play as much as he wanted to, but he gave us a spark going into that last quarter with the game on the line. Any time you can grab the momentum that’s a good thing.”

Just like in the two previous quarters, Jacksonville started the fourth with a run. Campbell, Berkley and Jackson scored the first six points of the quarter, giving Jacksonville its biggest lead of the game at 48-36. Only this time, the Red Devils held the Rockets off and thwarted any comeback attempt.

Jacksonville punctuated the win with 3:47 remaining when Wolfe knocked the ball loose before sprinting to the basket. Campbell picked up the loose ball on the run and lobbed it toward the rim where Wolfe slammed it for a 53-37 lead.

Wolfe finished the game with six points, but led all players with 10 rebounds. Jackson added seven rebounds and four blocks to his 10 points.

“The coaching staff and his teammates have been imploring Kanaan to come on,” Joyner said. “He kind of issued himself a challenge because he knew he wasn’t playing up to the level he was at last year. He had a great tournament down in Monticello. So the last three or four games he’s finally answering that challenge. Him and Damarion Freeman and Wolfe have all been playing better. And that’s huge because it gives you a whole new dimension when you got your bigs playing well.”

Only two Catholic starters scored in the game and they were the leading scorers. Thomas finished with 18 points while William Hancock had 12.

Jacksonville began conference play on the road at Mills on Tuesday. Look for that game report on Saturday’s edition of The Leader. The Red Devils will also play Little Rock Christian at home on Friday.