Saturday, November 15, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Comeback falls short

Leader sports editor

PINE BLUFF – The Jacksonville Lady Red Devils raised a ruckus in the tunnel before the game, but Little Rock Christian Academy raised a huge first half lead. The Lady Warriors then held on for dear life to earn a 57-54 victory Thursday in the semifinal round of the Mid South Classic at Pine Bluff High School.

It was the Lady Red Devils’ third game of the week after they beat Hamburg 69-32 in the first round of the tournament on Monday, then went to Little Rock and hammered Mount St. Mary 57-35 on Tuesday. They will play their fourth game of the week in the third-place game against Pine Bluff Dollarway at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Jacksonville jumped out to a quick 7-5 lead in the first two minutes of the game before hitting a scoring drought that lasted more than a quarter. The Lady Devils did not make another field goal until point guard Antrice McCoy hit a 3-pointer with 4:20 remaining in the first half. Jacksonville post player Tatiana Lacy made 1 of 2 free-throw attempts in that time while LRCA built a 23-8 lead. McCoy’s three made it 23-11, but the Lady Warriors went on another 12-2 run and led 35-13 with 20 seconds left.

Jacksonville forward Jerrica Hardaway closed the gap to 18 with two steals and two buckets just before halftime. They were her only four points of the game, but they set the tone for the third quarter.

Jacksonville’s pressure began to take a toll on the Lady Warriors, who only had seven players dressed out for the game. LRCA scored first in the second half to go back up by 20, but Jacksonville answered with a 10-0 run to make the score 37-27.

Guards McCoy and Asiah Williams scored all 10 points, but several players played a hand in creating 12 LRCA turnovers in the third.

After another Christian bucket, Jacksonville scored seven straight to make it 39-34. LRCA’s Ashley Ingram hit a 3-pointer to push the lead back to eight, but Jacksonville’s Alexis James answered right back just 10 seconds later.

The Lady Devils closed the gap to 42-39 by the end of the quarter, but never were able to take the lead.

The Lady Warriors scored the first five points of the fourth quarter and kept Jacksonville just at arms length the whole fourth quarter. McCoy hit a running floater with 55 seconds left to get the margin back to a single possession at 53-50, but LRCA’s Grayce Spangler got a three-point play on the ensuing possession with 38 seconds left.

Jacksonville still had two chances to win or send the game to overtime. McCoy hit another running floater with 26 seconds remaining, and the Warriors threw the ball away on the inbound pass.

McCoy scored yet again to make it 56-54 and Jacksonville coach William Rountree called timeout with 12.2 tics left on the clock. LRCA’s Alexis Thomas stepped over the sideline before throwing the ball inbounds under the Jacksonville basket.

Williams missed a short jumper on the inbound play; Spangler got the rebound and was immediately fouled. Still not in the bonus, LRCA had to throw it in under the Jacksonville basket again, and again Thomas panicked, lost control of the ball and grabbed it while still standing out of bounds. Jacksonville set up another nice inbound play that left Lacy open for a layup, but the pass was slightly late and Lacy lost control after contact as LRCA tried to recover defensively.

The ball rolled out of bounds and was awarded to LRCA. Jacksonville fouled Spangler and she made the first of two free throws with 2.2 seconds left. McCoy tried a 3/4 court shot that fell short as time expired.

“It was a great comeback in the second half,” Rountree said of his squad. “I thought the effort was fantastic. We had a good play there at the end to tie and probably should’ve held onto that pass, but for a young team like this to turn things around like that and get back into the game, I’m proud of that.”

Rountree downplayed pre-game activities when Little Rock Christian took the floor shortly after the previous game ended while Jacksonville spent almost two minutes of its warm-up time in the tunnel doing cheers and laughing, saying he didn’t think that had much to do with his team’s huge early deficit.

“I think people put too much into that kind of thing sometimes,” Rountree said. “This is a pretty loose bunch. I just think when the game started they came out and played a lot better than we did. I want to focus on the positives, and that’s the fact that this very inexperienced team fought hard to get back in it and showed some toughness. We can get better from this.”

McCoy, a senior point guard, led all scorers with 28 points, including 20 in the second half. Spangler led the Lady Warriors with 15 while Thomas added 12 and Annalee Rhodes 10.

Jacksonville hit 33 percent of its shot attempts on 19 of 57 shooting, and was 9 of 14 from the free-throw line. The Warriors were 19 of 50 and 14 of 21 from the foul line. Jacksonville got 12 steals while forcing 24 LRCA turnovers and committed only 11 turnovers. Hardaway led all players with four takeaways.