Tuesday, November 25, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils rally to win first place

Leader sports editor

If a little adversity can help a team grow, then the Jacksonville boys’ basketball team grew up a lot on Saturday.

The Red Devils overcame two large deficits, a stretch of one-sided foul calling, two starters fouling out in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter and most importantly, their own lethargy to defeat 6A-South favorite Benton 68-65 in the final of the Citizens’ Bank Classic at Searcy High School.

The first half was played at a slower pace than Jacksonville is used to, and Benton led 28-24. When Jacksonville came out of the locker room at halftime, Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner had to admonish his team to get up off the bench and warm up for the second half. That lethargy carried into the third quarter, and the Panthers’ lead was up to 34-24 within two minutes of play. That sparked a strategy change by Joyner.

“Some of that was my fault because I made a mistake and tried to slow it down this game,” said Joyner. “We’ve been pushing the tempo all season and that’s just the way this team is going to have to play. But this was a big win for us. This game had a conference intensity. I didn’t know how they would handle adversity. When the calls started getting one sided there in the fourth quarter, we lost two starters, they fought through it. This is the kind of game that can add character to your team.”

Benton brought a sizable height advantage into the game, so Joyner went with a bigger starting lineup and played a half-court game to try to even out his team’s disadvantage.

After the deficit grew to double digits, he went back to the pressure defense.

Within 55 seconds the Benton lead was down to three, and just 33 seconds later Jacksonville led 35-34. The run started off a missed 3-pointer by Benton. LaQuawn Smith pulled down the rebound and passed to Tyree Appleby. He dribbled to the free-throw line before pulling up and lobbing to Tedrick Wolfe for an alley-oop dunk.

Joyner immediately called for the full-court press. Smith got a steal and dished to Appleby for three. Appleby then stole the inbound pass and dished to Wolfe for a layup, making it 34-31 and forcing a Benton timeout. Benton missed on its next possession and Appleby went to the line and sank two free throws to make it 34-33. Benton then turned it over again and Smith scored to put Jacksonville up for the first time since early in the first quarter.

The run ended and the two teams traded baskets for the next few minutes, but Benton closed the third with a 6-0 run to take a 49-44 lead into the fourth quarter.

The pace slowed early in the final frame and Benton fell back into a 2-1-2 zone to try to keep the tempo slower. The Panthers went up 52-45 and Joyner called timeout. His team came out pressing again, but this time began fouling.

Appleby and Smith fouled out within five seconds of each other and Benton’s lead went from 52-50 to 59-50 with three minutes remaining.

Appleby was hit with his fourth foul with 5:23 remaining. When he untucked his jersey and ran down the court towards Jacksonville’s bench, he was hit with a technical and disqualified from the game. Right after Benton’s two free throws, Smith picked up his fifth foul with 5:18 remaining.

At that point, the Panthers held a 14-3 free-throw advantage in the fourth quarter, made 10 of them and pushed their lead to 59-50.

With two ball handlers and scorers out for Jacksonville, Benton switched to a box-and-one defense to keep the ball away from leading scorer Devin Campbell. Campbell had been held without a point or a rebound in the first half, but the fourth-quarter strategy backfired.

“When they did that we just used him to set screens,” Joyner said. “When he’d roll off the screen, if the pick man didn’t go with him he was open for a layup. They did it three times and he scored twice, so they had to come out of that.”

Campbell scored eight in a row for Jacksonville, which pulled the Red Devils to within 61-58 with 2:05 remaining. Braylin James then hit a pair of free throws before Benton’s Clayton Anderson drained two foul shots to make it 63-60 with 1:27 left.

Lakalon Huskey got an offensive rebound and putback with 48 seconds remaining, and Benton could not get the ball across half court in 10 seconds, turning it over with 33 seconds left. Only one second ticked off the clock before Campbell went to the line and gave Jacksonville the lead.

Anderson penetrated and hit a driving layup with 20 seconds left, putting the Panthers back up 65-64. Campbell then did the same for Jacksonville, driving the length of the court and scoring with five seconds remaining. Benton called timeout to set up the last play, but couldn’t get the ball thrown in and turned it over on a five-second violation.

Wolfe got open for a layup on the inbound play to set the final margin.

Wolfe led Jacksonville with 19 points. Campbell finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, all of which came in the second half. He gave credit for his second-half turnaround to his coach.

“I was just trying to go out there and execute what coach Joyner wanted us to,” Campbell said. “This team has all the tools, all the pieces to the puzzle, and we believe in coach. If we do what he says, we can go all the way.”

On Friday, Jacksonville got by Greenbrier 74-52 to set up the first-place game with Benton. In that game, Wolfe, Smith and Campbell each scored 19 points, while Appleby finished with seven points and seven assists.