Wednesday, December 09, 2015

SPORTS >> Devils win with dazzling play

Leader sports editor

A largely uneventful overtime period ended in dramatic fashion Monday at the Devils’ Den. Jacksonville junior Tyree Appleby penetrated into the lane and lobbed a perfect alley-oop pass to senior LaQuawn Smith, who slammed it home for the game-winner in a 57-54 victory over highly-ranked Hot Springs.

Smith’s dunk ended a two-and-a-half minute possession in which Hot Springs chose to sit back in a 1-3-1 and not matchup, allowing Appleby and Dajuan Ridgeway to pass the ball back and forth near half court. Smith scored with 24 seconds left and Hot Springs called timeout with 15 seconds left to set up the last play.

The Trojans spread out to let 6-foot-4 point guard Trey Lenox drive to the hoop, but Appleby stripped him as he went up for a shot from the middle of the lane. He was fouled and hit 1 of 2 free throws with .8 seconds left to set the final margin.

“Appleby’s just a baller,” said Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner. “He made the plays at the end. I don’t know why they sat back and let us rest for two minutes. They have better athletes than us and we were spent. That was just what we needed.”

Hot Springs overcame a 15-point second half deficit to send the game to overtime.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Appleby and Smith gave Jacksonville a 40-25 lead with 4:55 left in the third quarter. The Trojans had played man defense the whole game, but after a timeout switched to the 1-3-1.

The change badly disrupted Jacksonville’s rhythm. The Red Devils didn’t get another shot attempt up for almost two minutes, but the Trojans only cut the margin to 40-29 during that span. Hot Springs still trailed 45-34 late in the third quarter before Kajuan Christon hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer after two offensive rebounds that made it 45-37 heading into the fourth.

The Trojans opened the fourth quarter just like it ended the third, with a 3-pointer that made it 45-40. With 4:50 remaining, Paris Harris hit a layup that tied the game at 46-46. The two teams traded baskets to 50-50. After Appleby missed a pair of free throws, Hot Springs took its first lead at 52-50 with 1:22 left in regulation.

Hot Springs got a stop when Appleby missed a reverse layup, and got a break when, after a missed shot, a scrum for a loose basketball ended with Trojan coach Rodney Echols being awarded a timeout. Joyner argued that no one had possession of the ball in order to call timeout, but Hot Springs took possession with a two-point lead with 16 seconds left.

Inbounding underneath their own basket, the Trojans threw the ball out to the top of the key, where Appleby stole the pass and was fouled at the other end with 10 seconds to go.

This time he made both free throws and Kajuan Christon missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.

“Experience is going to make these guys better,” Joyner said. “They switched to the 1-3-1, and it took a little while for us to adjust to it. We have an offense for that, but most of these guys haven’t been in these situations.”

Smith, however, is a three-year starter who finished with 15 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. At 6-3, he was shorter than three of Hot Springs’ starters, but was the game’s top rebounder.

“That’s just playing hard and these kids play hard,” Joyner said. “Quawn can just zone out sometimes. We’ve been working on keeping him focused on what’s going on out on the floor. He was focused tonight.”

“Thirteen rebounds, I like the sound of that,” said Smith. “I just know as a senior I have to show the ones who haven’t played much before what it takes. We don’t have as much size this year so we have to play that much harder. But we’ve had confidence from day one. We don’t see it as a weakness.”

Jacksonville’s tallest player, 6-8 junior Kameron Hamilton, had the best game of his career. He only scored two points, grabbed two rebounds and blocked one shot, but the nature of his play changed the game, according to Joyner.

Hamilton’s one bucket was an emphatic dunk after an offensive rebound, and he threw Hot Springs center Quanteze Smith shot back out near the half-court line.

“The difference in the game was Kameron Hamilton getting in there and being a force on defense,” Joyner said. “He’s coming around. Last year was his first year of organized basketball. He was so soft and so inexperienced, he wasn’t much help. But he’s a different player this year. He’s still got a long way to go, like we all do, but he’s getting better.”

Appleby led all scorers with 30 points. Xavian Christon led Hot Springs with 18 points while Kajuan Christon scored 13. Hot Springs outrebounded Jacksonville 28-27.

On Friday, Jacksonville (5-1) beat Vilonia 84-61 in an up-and-down game. Smith led Jacksonville in that win with 21 points while Appleby had 20 and Ridgeway 12. Josh Greer led Vilonia with 22 points while Austin Newell and C.J. Williford scored 11 apiece.