Friday, January 15, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Devils pull out big win

Leader sports editor

High drama and controversy abounded the whole game, and never more so than in the last 10 seconds, but in the end, the Jacksonville Red Devils earned a huge 5A-Central victory on Tuesday, defeating No. 2 ranked Mills 54-53 at JHS.

Mills forward Jeremiah Toney made 1 of 2 free throws with 2:32 left in the game to tie the score at 50, and it stayed that way until the last two seconds of the game.

Both teams traded defensive stops after the free throw, and with 1:02 remaining, Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner called timeout.

He decided to try to hold for the last shot and Mills was content to let the Red Devils run down the clock. With 15 seconds left, Jacksonville made its move. Tyree Appleby tried to penetrate and had no room. He passed to LaQuawn Smith who was also cut off and passed back to Appleby.

A second Appleby attempt ended with a dish to DaJuan Ridgeway in the right corner. He went up for a shot, but 6-foot-7 Darius Hall flew towards him and Ridgeway changed his mind.

He tried to dribble out of his shooting formation, but appeared to come down with the ball. The officials called nothing and Ridgeway passed to a cutting Appleby, who was fouled with two seconds on the clock.

Mills coach Raymond Cooper came unglued that there was no traveling violation called on Ridgeway. The officials let him vent for a while, and he finally called timeout before Appleby got the ball for the potential game-winning free throw.

During the timeout, Cooper continued to berate the officials, and received a technical foul, adding two more free throws for Appleby’s trip to the line.

Appleby made just two of the four shots, but because of Cooper’s technical, Jacksonville got the ball back. Mills fouled Appleby again before the inbound pass. This time he made both free throws to seal the victory.

Jacksonville allowed Mills to throw the inbound pass the length of the court, and Quawn Marshall hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to set the final margin.

After the game, one official said they ruled that Hall had touched the ball as Ridgeway was shooting, knocking it loose from his grip and making it legal for him to come down with possession.

Cooper had little comment about that explanation other than to laugh heartily.

“I won’t comment about the officials but I’ll tell you what I saw,” Cooper said. “I saw a guy jump up to shoot the basketball, got his shot altered by a long defender coming at him and came down with the ball.”

If traveling had been called, Mills would’ve got it with about five seconds remaining, which is no guarantee of victory, and that call wasn’t what Cooper believed made the difference in the game.

“We didn’t do anything we practiced for this game,” Cooper said on Wednesday. “We abandoned everything we worked on and played Jacksonville’s game. I just watched the first quarter over again and we didn’t have a single three-pass possession the entire quarter. We got into a one-on-one game. We have a lot of size and they have three good guards who penetrate and create. We played Jacksonville’s game and that’s why we got beat.”

The game was heated from the first quarter. A minute into the game with Mills leading 4-0, Appleby and Mills’ Grehlon Easter began mouthing. Easter shoved Appleby as teams were setting up for an inbound pass and drew a technical foul. A few minutes later, Easter went up for a shot and Appleby fouled him very hard. Shortly after that, Appleby was called for a charge, and earned a seat on the bench for most of the rest of the half.

He entered briefly midway through the second quarter and charged again.

“We have to get Appleby to quit making stupid fouls because he’s too valuable to this team,” said Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner. “But the key to this game was Kameron Hamilton. He went in there and made his presence known on defense. We don’t have anybody else long enough to do that against a team as big as Mills. But he held his ground and altered some shots, and that was huge.”

Hamilton hasn’t seen much playing time since joining the team last year as a sophomore transfer from West Memphis, but the 6-8 junior was needed against the Comets’ size. He knew his mission was simple.

“Just be aggressive and guard the rim,” Hamilton said.

Joyner also bragged on Chris Williams and Marice Lambert, who have manned the post most of the season despite being at a huge height disadvantage most of the time. They were never bigger than on Tuesday.

“I have to give some credit to my little bigs,” Joyner said. “Chris Williams and Mo Lambert play their butts off. And they played their butts off tonight.”

Williams gets motivation from his role.

“My teammates motivate me to get better and it motivates me playing against bigger guys,” said the 6-foot Williams. “I just be aggressive and don’t take anything lightly. For us to win it has to be all about defense and working together.”

After being pushed to the floor early in the game, Appleby scored six points in less than a minute to give the Red Devils a 6-4 lead before taking a seat. He barely played and didn’t score in the second quarter, but his teammates still stretched their lead to 24-16 early in the period. That’s when Mills came back with its best run of the game. Easter hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Kaevon Jones came off the bench to score six-straight on midrange jumpers, giving the Comets a 28-24 lead with four minutes left in the half.

Ridgeway finally broke the run with a pair of free throws with 2:49 left, and Mills took a 32-31 lead into intermission.

Mills scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to take a 49-42 lead before Appleby reeled off six-straight. His 3-pointer made it 49-48 with 6:18 left to play, and the two teams combined for three points over the next 6:16 until Appleby’s game-clinching free throws.

Appleby finished with a game-high 18 points despite barely playing half the game. Smith and Ridgeway each scored 12. Smith scored 10 of his points in the second quarter as an answer to Mills’ big run.

Easter and Marshall scored 12 for Mills (12-5, 2-1) while Jones added 11.