Monday, January 12, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville wins opening league game

Leader sports editor

A two-week layoff may have led to a sluggish start, but the Jacksonville Red Devils made a strong finish in their 5A-Central Conference opener Tuesday at JHS. It took Jacksonville (11-2, 1-0) four minutes to make a bucket against league newcomer J.A. Fair, but once it did, it sparked a 17-3 run that put the home team in control and led to a 63-46 Red Devil victory.

J.A. Fair (7-5, 0-1) had a marked size advantage, something Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner worries about with his small team. But 6-foot-8 sophomore Kris Bankston and 6-5 senior Braylon Smith were non-factors offensively. Bankston led all players with nine rebounds and four blocked shots, but scored just two points on free throws while Smith did not score at all.

The War Eagles, relying heavily on 5-10 point guard Jerrick Cole, scored the game’s first four points, but once the Red Devils got going, they put together a scoring blitz in the last half of the first quarter to take a 17-7 lead into the second period. The run did not extend into the second.

Fair answered by scoring the first six points of the second frame before both teams became bogged down offensively. It took Jacksonville even longer to make a field goal in the second period than it did in the first. The Red Devils mustered just two free throws by Devin Campbell for the first six minutes of the quarter, but Fair wasn’t able to gain any more ground after the 6-0 run.

Finally Jacksonville broke loose again, dropping in nine points in the last two minutes and taking a 28-17 lead into halftime.

Junior Braylon James sparked the run, scoring five of the nine points, including the Red Devils’ only 3-pointer of the first half.

The third quarter featured no big runs by either team. Both teams looked to their leading scorers for most of the work offensively, and Cole and Campbell traded buckets most of the frame.

However, the game’s most exciting play came when LaQwan Smith somehow found Tedrick Wolfe for an alley-oop dunk amidst heavy traffic on a fast break. Jacksonville’s lead was still 11 at 42-31 at the start of the fourth, and it stayed in that area until Jacksonville went on another run to put the game away with about three minutes remaining.

The run could have started sooner. Campbell got a breakaway dunk that made it 49-36 with 4:30 remaining, but was called for a technical foul for hanging onto the rim.

After Fair’s free throws, Jacksonville got a stop defensively before Tyree Appleby penetrated and dished to Campbell for another slam that made it 51-38 with 3:54 left. That sparked a 10-2 run that included two more dunks, one each by Wolfe and Smith.

Jacksonville was poised for another run when Fair’s Kris Croom was called for a flagrant foul as Smith was going up. He made 1 of 2 foul shots and Jacksonville got another easy bucket on a nifty inbounds play for a 57-40 lead. Smith then scored again to put the Red Devils up by 19 with 3:01 remaining.

Despite the highlight-reel way his team finished the game, Joyner was not pleased with his team’s overall performance.

“We still made too many boneheaded plays,” said Joyner. “It’s the same thing we’ve been dealing with. People forcing the ball, making one pass and throwing up bad shots. That was the difference in the first half, forcing it and not sharing the ball.”

Joyner felt his team had an opportunity to put the game away in the second quarter after the 17-3 run in the first.

“With this team it’s all between the ears,” Joyner said. “We’re about to bury this team and twice we foul people 94 feet from their basket. And we talked about that. When someone gets a rebound on our end, don’t stand there and start slapping for the ball. He’s 90 feet from the basket. It’s just stupid stuff like that that hurts us.”

Even when reminded his team won the game by 17, Joyner was unmoved. Pointing at pictures of past state championship teams on his office wall, Joyner said, “We’re trying to reach this point every year. Right now, this team is nowhere close to the level it takes to be right there. They’re good basketball players and they play hard, but they don’t play smart enough right now to be champions.”

Campbell and Cole each led their respective teams with 20 points apiece. Cole was the only War Eagle in double figures while Wolfe scored 12 and Smith 10 for Jacksonville.

The Red Devils won the rebounding battle 24-22 and were 15 of 22 from the foul line while Fair was 16 of 24.

Jacksonville shot much better from the floor, largely due to the eight dunks and other easy baskets. JHS was 23 of 51 while Fair made just 14 of 49 field goals.