Friday, January 29, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Rally in fourth lifts Devils over Bears

Leader sports editor

Sylvan Hills’ JaCobé Davis hit two free throws with 1:52 remaining in the game to give the Bears a four-point lead. Sylvan Hills had not trailed since the first quarter, but it was the last two points the Bears would score the rest of the game. In yet another down-to-the-wire 5A-Central basketball game, the Jacksonville Red Devils came away with a 62-60 victory Tuesday at the Devils’ Den.

Jacksonville has beaten Beebe and North Pulaski by wide margins and was blown out by an 85-percent shooting night by J.A. Fair. The Red Devils are 2-1 in their other conference games, and all three have come down to the last possession.

How a win in this most brutal of leagues is achieved does not matter to Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner.

“A win is a win is a win in this league,” said Joyner. “It don’t matter how you get it. Sylvan Hills has some players. Give those guys some credit. They came out with a good game plan – same thing they did to PA. They wanted to keep a guy glued to Appleby the whole time, and we don’t really have a strong enough post game to make them pay for that. We’re too small. But Chris (Williams) was able to finish some shots early on, and our guards stepped up late in the game and pulled it out. I don’t even really know how we ended up winning the game, but we won it and that’s all that matters.

“I know this, our guards have out-played everybody we’ve played this year. Our postmen have played as hard or harder than everybody we’ve played. We’re just so small. We have to play harder than everybody or we can’t win. This team has played their butts off all year and that’s all you can ask for as a coach.”

Jacksonville trailed most of the game. The Red Devils scored the first five points while Sylvan Hills missed its first eight shots of the game. The Bears didn’t score for the first four minutes. Junior post player Jordan Washington finally scored with 3:55 remaining in the opening quarter to make the score 5-2. Five seconds later, Jacksonville’s Tyree Appleby was called for carrying, and five seconds after that Cordy Winston penetrated and dished to Davis for an easy layup.

Both teams went cold from there. Winston tied the game with a transition layup with 2:38 to go in the opening period. Seventeen seconds later, Winston beat the JHS defense down the court after a missed shot to give the Bears an 8-6 lead – a lead they would not relinquish until the fourth quarter.

Jacksonville managed to tie the game at 12 with the last shot of the first quarter, but Sylvan Hills scored the first five points of the second quarter, and did not trail again until the last bucket of the game.

The Bears led 50-43 going into the final quarter. Jacksonville opened the fourth in sort of a full-court press.

“We extended the defense and trapped if they threw it into a trapping lane,” Joyner said. “It wasn’t an all-out press.”

The scheme worked, and Sylvan Hills began turning the ball over. The Bears had committed 10 turnovers through the first three quarters combined, but committed six in the fourth quarter.

But Sylvan Hills’ defense was good, too. Jacksonville disrupted the Bears’ offensive rhythm, but still trailed 56-50 with four minutes remaining. That’s when Bralyn James missed a 3-pointer, but got the ball back after an offensive rebound and assist by Williams. He made his second attempt to make the score 56-53 with 3:42 remaining in the game.

Sylvan Hills turned it over on the ensuing possession and LaQuawn Smith got an offensive rebound and was fouled at the other end. He made 1 of 2 to pull the Red Devils within two points, but Davis made it 58-54 with 3:02 left.

The Bears got a defensive stop when Smith missed and Sylvan Hills’ Sam Williams got the rebound. But Chris Williams got back on defense and intercepted the outlet pass for Jacksonville. He threw to Smith, who was streaking to the basket, for a layup that made it 58-56 with 2:30 on the clock.

Jacksonville had a chance to tie the game when James got a steal on the Bears’ next possession, but Appleby missed a contested layup and Sam Williams got the rebound for the Bears to set up Davis’ two free throws with 1:52 remaining.

After Davis’ free throws, Sylvan Hills got a defensive stop, but Winston lost his dribble near midcourt against a Jacksonville double team. James picked up the loose ball and passed to DaJuan Ridgeway, who was fouled with 1:22 remaining.

He made both free throws to make it a two-point game. Sylvan Hills sophomore post player Alex Curry then threw the ball out of bounds from the high post, expecting a teammate to cut towards the basket. With 1:25 remaining, Appleby hit two free throws to tie the game. Eight seconds later, Jacksonville’s pressure forced a loose ball that resulted in a tie-up and Jacksonville possession.

Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis elected to let the Red Devils hold the ball for the last shot. Jacksonville passed the ball back-and-forth near midcourt between Appleby and Ridgeway for more than a minute. With 10 seconds left, the Bears ran a double team out to Appleby. The junior Red Devil went right and easily around the double team, and all the way to the basket for an easy layup that set the final margin. He was also fouled, and missed the free throw with 3.4 seconds left.

Sylvan Hills (12-7, 3-3) called timeout to set up a final shot, and the plan worked perfectly except the shot going in. JaCobé Davis found himself wide open for a 22-footer from the right wing, but the shot was off to the right at the buzzer, sealing Jacksonville’s victory.

“Games like this hurt by no more than any other,” said Kevin Davis. “You want to win all of them at home. We came in here and tried to steal one and almost pulled it off. I thought we outplayed them in the first half, and then the second half was really hard to establish any flow at all with all the fouls. It disrupted both teams so I don’t want to make excuses, but they called the second half totally different than the first and that was hard to adjust to – for both teams.”

There were 69 free throws shot in the game, and 45 were in the second half. Joyner was no more pleased with the officiating than Davis.

“That was the worst game we’ve played in all year,” Joyner said. “There was no flow to the second half and no consistency with what they were calling. Guys were getting hammered around the basket and nothing, but then there were little touch fouls out on the court. It’s crazy. It’s ridiculous.”

Neither team shot free throws very well. Jacksonville, usually a solid free-throw shooting team, was 18 of 35 while Sylvan Hills was slightly better at 22 of 34. It still wasn’t good enough for Kevin Davis.

“You miss 10, 12 free throws and lose on the last shot, that’s pretty much on you,” Davis said. “We can point at this or that, but if we make 25 percent of those we missed, we win the game. Missed free throws drive me crazy, especially with a team like we have this year that’s capable of getting to the line.”

Four Red Devils (12-6, 4-2) finished in double figures. Smith recorded a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Ridgeway added 13, Appleby 12 and Chris Williams 10.

JaCobé Davis scored 17 while Winston had 10 points for the Bears. Washington had eight points and a game-high 14 rebounds.