Tuesday, March 03, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils are ready to run

Leader sports editor

The first round of the Class 5A boys’ state tournament will feature a rematch of last year’s state championship game. Jacksonville and Forrest City will take the floor at Greene County Tech High School in Paragould at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow in what could be the most exciting game of the first round.

Forrest City interim coach Barry Hodges has his team running at a blistering pace. The No. 2 seed from the East has broken the 90-point margin three times this season, and Hodges believes that’s when his bunch is at its best.

“It’s absolutely nothing like our state championship team,” Hodges said on Monday. “Last year we went 6-foot-8, 6-6 and 6-5 in the starting lineup. This year our tallest guy is 6-3 and my only real post player is a football kid who’s about 6-0 or maybe 6-1. So we had to play faster and we have some guys who can shoot it. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t.”

Forrest City (15-11, 11-3) is led by junior guard Robert Glasper, who was the only starting underclassman from last year’s team that beat Jacksonville handily in the state finals. He averages almost 25 points per game and has scored more than 30 several times.

Jacksonville also has shooters, but has looked its best playing a half-court game, feeding 6-4 Tedrick Wolfe and 6-3 Devin Campbell inside. Both of those guys can also step outside and score, and Campbell is also effective off the dribble.

Teams that have been able to force a frenetic pace have troubled the Red Devils this season, but head coach Vic Joyner welcomes the challenge.

“If they want to run, let’s run,” said Joyner. “It’s not running that has hurt us. It’s been pressure. We have athletes and we have some depth, so just running up and down the court is no big deal. We haven’t done it much this year because we haven’t been disciplined enough to press ourselves. When we settle down and execute my offense is when we look really good.”

Jacksonville hasn’t had a size advantage many times this year, but will have one on Thursday. So despite Joyner’s talk of running with the Mustangs, the Devils might slow it down and feed the middle.

“Listen, this team doesn’t really have an identity,” Joyner said. “This team has just had to morph into whatever we need given each matchup. Sometimes we’ve done that and looked extremely good. Other times we’ve struggled and looked like crap. But our struggles have primarily been our own fault, not the people we were playing. If we’ll just go out there and take care of our own business, we’re as good as anybody in 5A.”

Both teams’ most recent games have been against their respective league’s champions. Jacksonville (20-7, 10-4) pulled off a mild upset by going to previous 5A-Central unbeaten McClellan and winning 68-64 in overtime. The Red Devils did it by cutting off the lane on defense and playing with patience on offense. Wolfe finished with 25 while Campbell had 11. Sophomore guard Tyree Appleby scored 18 from outside to help keep things open inside.

“We played a complete game and executed,” Joyner said. “Their two main guys got their points, but they weren’t all dunks like they were when they beat us. They had to work.”

Forrest City comes off an 80-62 loss to Valley View. Unlike Jacksonville’s game with McClellan, for which nothing was on the line, the winner of the FC-VV game at FCHS was for a share of the conference championship and the No. 1 seed in the state tournament. The Mustangs had beaten the Blazers 90-88 in their first meeting in Jonesboro.

Forrest City has been without longtime leader Dwight Lofton, who suffered two strokes between the Christmas break and the second conference game, the last one requiring surgery, hospitalization and a long period of rest.

Hodges has been with Lofton at Forrest City for 18 years, making the transition easier for the players.

“I’ve been here so long there wasn’t much adjustment the players had to do as far as how things are done around here,” Hodges said. “Just the fact of not having coach Lofton around, that has been a big adjustment for everyone, me included. I’m really kind of surprised and pleased and very proud of how well our players have handled it.”