Friday, February 19, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Devils knock Lions out

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville boys’ basketball team eliminated McClellan from the 5A-Central playoff race and took one step closer to locking up its own spot in the state tournament on Tuesday.

The Red Devils overcame a Lion team that was red hot early to win 80-65 at the Devils’ Den.

McClellan’s Raymond Harris picked up right where he left off from his 38-point performance last month in the Crimson Lions’ 72-70 win over the Red Devils while Jacksonville couldn’t even get a shot up in the first two minutes. The Red Devils’ first three possessions ended in turnovers before Chris Williams finally hit two free throws.

Harris then added his fourth-straight made basket, a 17-footer while being double-teamed, that put the Lions up 10-2 with five minutes left in the first quarter.

McClellan’s defensive game plan was to deny top scorers Tyree Appleby and LaQuawn Smith. It worked well in the first half, but it opened things up for other players. Williams and Bralyn James took advantage.

James scored six-straight to pull Jacksonville within 10-8, but Karson Hayes answered with five-straight for McClellan, forcing Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner to call his second timeout with 2:20 left in the opening frame.

The rapid tempo slowed dramatically after the break. McClellan added one more basket while Jacksonville went scoreless, making the score 17-8 going into the second quarter.

Harris scored seconds into the second period to cap a 9-0 run and give the Lions their biggest lead. The game got back to frenetic pace in the second quarter. Though the Lions’ triangle and two defense was still keeping Appleby and Smith in check, the Red Devils got a huge boost from the bench in the second quarter.

Dajuan Ridgeway and Kavion Waller each came off the bench to score eight points in the second, including two 3-pointers apiece. Appleby got open in the corner and hit a fifth 3-pointer in the quarter. Waller’s first 3-pointer tied the game for the first time since the opening tip at 28-28. His second one gave the Red Devils their first lead at 33-30. It didn’t last long. Just 12 seconds later Harris made a 3-pointer that tied it, and McClellan took a 35-34 lead into the locker room at halftime.

Harris had 22 of McClellan’s 35 points at the break, and he was the sole focus of Joyner’s halftime adjustments.

“We were going to stop 11 if it mean somebody else got 40,” said Joyner. “I just got sick and tired of watching that dude drive to the basket and make everything he threw up in the air. So we were just going to put two on him, and close the lane. We just left (number) one unguarded. I didn’t care. He (Harris) wasn’t looking to pass anyway. Why would he, as many points as he’s scored on us this year? That’s all we changed at halftime.”

The strategy worked. Harris only managed three points in the third quarter and the Lions only scored six.

Jacksonville (16-8, 8-4) continued to get good production from Williams and Ridgeway, who led the Red Devils’ 17-point quarter that gave them a 51-41 lead going into the fourth.

McClellan’s deficit forced it to come out of its planned defense to apply pressure, and Appleby exploded for 17.

“We’re not really a pressing team,” said McClellan coach Charles Threatt. “We have struggle playing from behind this year. We had to try something to close the gap, but it’s just not our strength and they took advantage of it. Their guards are very good.”

After Jacksonville adjusted to the perimeter-heavy defense by McClellan, (10-14, 5-7) it got several open looks from close range, and its final statistics showed it.

The Red Devils shot 57 percent from the floor, including 27 of 42 (64 percent) from two-point range. They were 5 of 14 from outside and hit 11 of 18 free throws.

By himself, Harris shot more free throws than Jacksonville, hitting 13 of 22. As a team, the Lions made just 18 of 35 foul shots. They were 21 of 50 from the floor, including 4 for 14 from 3-point range.

Both teams had 21 rebounds.

Harris led all scorers with 35 while Karson Hayes added 13 for McClellan.

Appleby finished with 23 to lead five Red Devils in double figures. Ridgeway finished with 15, Williams had 14 while Waller and James each scored 10.