Tuesday, December 09, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Devils bounce back at Conway

Leader sports editor

CONWAY – A sluggish start and sloppy finish didn’t stop the Jacksonville Red Devils from getting a win Monday in the first round of the Wampus Cat Invitational. Jacksonville utterly dominated Pine Bluff for the middle two quarters and it was enough for a 72-62 victory.

The win came on the heels of a terrible performance Saturday in the Battle of the Border, where the Red Devils lost 56-43 to Memphis Central, and provided Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner with some encouragement.

“You saw the patience we showed tonight,” Joyner said. “We moved the ball, cut harder without the ball and got open shots. That’s the difference in these two games. We had no patience when they tried to slow us down Saturday.”

Despite only one starter reaching 6-feet, Pine Bluff outrebounded Jacksonville in the first half. Red Devil senior forward Tedrick Wolfe showed a more determined approach to rebounding in the second half, grabbing six of his game-high 13 boards in the third quarter. He also led the Red Devils with 23 points and blocked three shots.

“We needed to rebound better,” Wolfe said. “That’s sort of my job, being the post player. So I just made the decision to work harder in the second half.”

Pine Bluff had 15 rebounds at the break to Jacksonville’s 10, but the Red Devils limited the Zebras to just five boards the entire second half and finished the game with a 29-20 rebound advantage.

Jacksonville won the opening tip and scored quickly when LaQuawn Smith got to the rim for a layup. It was the first and last made basket by Jacksonville in the opening quarter. The Red Devils did add a free throw, but missed 15-consecutive shots as Pine Bluff built a 15-3 lead.

“We worked the ball around and got some wide open shots, we just couldn’t make anything,” Joyner said. “I think they were a little tight, a little nervous after losing and looking so bad Saturday. Once they settled down they took it to them.”

Once Jacksonville made a basket, which came a minute into the second quarter, it sparked a six-minute, 26-10 run that gave the Red Devils a 28-25 lead. The Zebras scored the last basket of the half to go into intermission trailing by one, but the run didn’t stop with the break.

Jacksonville scored the first 12 points of the third quarter to take a 40-27 lead, and took a 52-37 lead into the fourth quarter. The margin reached as much as 18 when Devin Campbell completed a three-point play with the first shot of the fourth quarter. And despite Campbell scoring 12 of his 18 points in the final period, the Red Devils had trouble putting the Zebras away.

Pine Bluff cut the margin to as little as seven points with 1:29 remaining, but a technical foul on Zebra coach Charles Finley after a jump ball led to a four-point possession for Jacksonville and a 68-57 lead with 1:19 remaining.

The Red Devils continued to foul late in the game and give Pine Bluff points with the clock stopped, but also kept scoring at the other end to maintain control of the game.

“It just wasn’t smart basketball at the end,” Joyner said. “No sense in just giving them points, but overall it was a much better game than Saturday. We have to keep getting better every game and I thought tonight we got a little better. Still a long way to go though.”

Behind Wolfe’s 23 and Campbell’s 18, point guard Tyree Appleby scored 13 points and Smith added 10. Pine Bluff guard Marcus Thomas led all scorers with 31, including four 3-pointers and 7-for-7 shooting from the free-throw line. Guard C.J. Smith was the only other Zebra in double figures with 14 points.

Jacksonville made 24 of 58 shot attempts, including 3 of 11 3-pointers, and went 21 for 32 at the free-throw line. Pine Bluff hit six of 19 three-point attempts and went 21 of 49 overall from the field. The Zebras made 15 of 16 free throws.

Jacksonville, 6-2, gets a chance to avenge its first loss this season when it plays Hot Springs in the second round at Conway on Friday. The Trojans beat Bryant 74-54 on Monday.