Wednesday, February 19, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils take two from Lions

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils started and finished an exciting win over Little Rock McClellan with thunderous dunks on Friday, and they were by two of the biggest factors in the game. Senior post player Kanaan Jackson scored the game’s first points with a two-handed slam after a steal and assist by sophomore LaQuawn Smith.

Jackson and junior post Tedrick Wolfe finished it with back-to-back-to-back one-handed monsters to emphatically put a stamp on the 77-67 victory.

Jackson and Wolfe combined to score 34 points and grab 21 rebounds. Both players scored 17 and Jackson was one board better than Wolfe.

All five Red Devil starters scored in double figures.

“Coach always tells us to come out strong and not let them get in the first punch,” said Wolfe. “He’s been telling us to work it from the inside out and for us to be more aggressive, and I feel like we’re doing better at that.”

“We’re getting better at playing team basketball,” said Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner. “We’re still having too many lulls where we’re not sticking to the game plan and executing. I just like mine to play steadily hard. I don’t like them to go up and
down and that’s what they did.”

McClellan started the game in a 2-3-zone defense and it surprised Jacksonville, who wasn’t able to create a good shot early. But the defense picked up the slack when Smith stole the ball just after it crossed midcourt, and fed Jackson streaking to the basket.

On the next possession, good interior passing sliced up the zone and Jackson found Wolfe under the basket for an easy layup and a 4-0 lead.

McClellan coach Christopher Threatt called timeout and switched to a zone press. That went even worse for the Lions. When Wolfe scored with 3:26 left in the opening quarter, it gave Jacksonville a 13-2 lead, which grew to as much as 19-6 before McClellan got back to within 23-13 by the start of the second.

Jacksonville’s biggest lead of the first half came at the 5:45 mark when a Devin Campbell 3-pointer made it 30-15. McClellan then scored six straight, starting when Andre Jones drove around Wolfe and down the middle of the lane for a two-handed slam. Jackson then bumped him as he turned to run back on defense, and was called for a foul, giving the Lions the ball back. Jones scored again, and then Keith Hayes added two free throws to make it 30-21 with 3:49 left in the half.

The Red Devils maintained that 11-point advantage until halftime, taking a 41-30 lead into the break.

Jacksonville, 20-3, 11-0, opened the third quarter with an 11-2 run to take its biggest lead of the game at 52-32 with 3:20 left in the period, but McClellan wasn’t going away just yet.

The Lions, 14-8, 6-4, slowly battled back and pulled to within 59-51 with 5:07 left in the game. At 61-53, Smith made the play that changed the momentum back to the home team. The sophomore guard missed the front end of a one-and-one with all four teammates back for defense. But he caught the Lions sleeping. The ball made a lap around the rim before springing outward, where Smith leaped for the rebound and put it back in for a 10-point lead.

“That’s just a hustle play right there,” Joyner said. “That was a big basketball play. But I’ll tell you what the key to this game was. When I put that second string in there and they survived for three minutes and forty-six seconds. McClellan made a push, but they burned so much energy. When I put the starters back in there they couldn’t keep it going.”

The Lions still had one run left. After falling behind by 14 again, the visitors rallied back to within 71-63 with 1:15 remaining, but then began the trio of dunks that sealed the deal.

With a minute remaining, Wolfe got the first of the three, and then added the second 15 seconds later. Exactly 15 seconds after that, Jackson finished off the 6-0 run of dunks to make it 77-63. McClellan added two buckets to set the final margin.

Wolfe says the players agree with their coach, that improvement is still needed despite the current 15-game winning streak.

“We’re getting stronger and stronger every day, but I think we still have a few things we have to work on to get better,” Wolfe said. “We still have a few holes we have to fill to be a championship-level team.”

Campbell scored 11 points while Smith and Sergio Berkley had 10 each for Jacksonville. Berkley also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Lady Red Devils picked up another easy win, beating the Lady Lions 69-42 to improve to 14-7 overall and 10-1 in conference play. Senior guard Tiffany Smith led the way for Jacksonville with 23 points.