Friday, November 21, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils hold back Lion surge

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils bounced back from a disappointing loss on Tuesday with a 74-67 win over the Searcy Lions on Thursday in the first round of the Citizen Bank Classic.

Jacksonville lost 80-63 at Hot Springs in its second game of the season before coming into Searcy High School to defend the tournament championship it won last year.

Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner didn’t start any of his usual starting five against Searcy, but not because of their performance at Hot Springs, and not because the bench played well on Tuesday, but because it played poorly.

“It was a blessing to get this win, but that was not the objective of this game,” said Joyner after Thursday’s game. “We’re trying to establish some depth. We’re going to have to run this year and you can’t run with six or seven players. We jumped out 25-13 on Hot Springs and I put that second group in. In about two minutes we were down. I started those guys tonight to find out if they were going to be able to play for me at all. They just have to get some confidence in themselves. They played a lot better today.”

In each of the first two quarters, players that usually come off the bench played the first five minutes, with typical starters, except Devin Campbell, who sat out to rest a sore knee, playing the final three.

The plan to get more people involved worked. All 12 Jacksonville players that took the floor scored at least one basket while 10 different Red Devils grabbed rebounds and six went to the free-throw line.

The Red Devils jumped out to a 6-0 lead on baskets by Craig Watson, Braylin James and Dajuawn Ridgeway. Searcy guard James Wade began to find his way through the press, and Jacksonville usually dropped back into an extended 2-3 zone. The game slowed down and Searcy answered with a pair of 3-pointers to tie the game with 3:38 left in the first quarter.

Joyner changed units and Jacksonville raced back out to a seven-point lead, but Searcy reserve Anthony Arnold came off the bench to drain back-to-back 3-pointers off the press break to cut the margin to one, where it stayed 17-16 until the start of the second quarter.

James hit a 3-pointer to start the second quarter and Malik Aaron got an offensive rebound and putback to quickly make it 22-16.

Lion forward Jeremiah Clifton then began to heat up, and stayed hot the rest of the game. He led Searcy to a 33-30 lead before Jacksonville’s unit change. From that point, the Red Devils closed the first half on an 11-2 run.

The last bucket came off a steal by LaQuawn Smith deep on Jacksonville’s end of the court. After chasing down his deflected pass, Smith lobbed to Tedrick Wolfe for an alley-oop dunk just before the buzzer, sending the Red Devils to halftime with a 41-35 lead.

Joyner began mixing and matching players in the second half, and the first group continued the momentum from the first half. The Red Devils built a 51-37 lead over the first six minutes, but Searcy closed the quarter with a 9-2 run to make it 53-46 at the start of the fourth.

Clifton continued to carry the scoring load for Searcy while Wade effectively broke the press with his dribble. The Lions had several possessions to tie or take the lead, but the Jacksonville defense came through when it had to. A Clifton three made it 61-58 with 3:32 remaining, but missed free throws hurt the Lions down the stretch.

Jacksonville answered the Clifton bucket when Smith scored on a nifty inbounds play. Wade then missed a pair of free throws and Jacksonville answered with a stickback by Wolfe for a 65-58 lead. Searcy’s Montel Williams then drained a three and Jacksonville turned it over on the ensuing possession. Williams then scored and was fouled to make it 65-63, but missed the free throw with 1:45 remaining.

Jacksonville sophomore Tyree Appleby got the rebound and dribbled the length of the court before dishing to Wolfe for a layup and a 67-63 lead with 1:38 left. Wade then missed a driving shot, but got his own rebound and kicked it out to Clifton for another 3-pointer that pulled Searcy to within one with 1:10 remaining.

Joyner called timeout and the Lions would get just one free throw from that point while Jacksonville closed the game out by hitting 7 of 8 foul shots when Searcy was forced to foul.

Wolfe led Jacksonville with a double-double, scoring 21 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. James added 13 for the Red Devils while Kahlil Hill scored eight.

Clifton led all scorers with 33 points while Wade added 11 points and seven assists.

Free throws played a big role as well. Jacksonville hit 17 of 22 for the game, including 9 of 10 in the fourth quarter and 7 of 8 in the final minute. Searcy hit just 15 of 29, and only 5 of 12 in the fourth quarter. Jacksonville outrebounded Searcy 31-22.

The Red Devils played Greenbrier on Friday and will face Benton at 4:30 today in the final round. Look for details of those games in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader.