Tuesday, November 15, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville splits a pair with Comets

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Titans went to the wire with one of the highest-rated teams in the state on Friday, but ended up one point short in a 78-77 loss at the Galaxy gymnasium at Mills in Little Rock. The Comets feature two potential Division I players. Darius Hall has already signed with the Arkansas Razorbacks, while Jeremiah Toney went the JUCO route and signed with UA-Fort Smith.

But it was Grehlon Easter that led the Comets on Friday, especially in the second half.

Easter had a team-high 20 points, and got half of it in the third quarter when Mills pulled out to a nine-point lead.

Jacksonville rallied from that deficit to pull within one point on three different occasions in the fourth quarter, but could never claim the lead.

“We had some untimely turnovers,” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said. “We’d make a run and get close, and then get careless with the basketball. It was just too many mistakes for a team with veteran guards like we have. We can’t be out there throwing the ball away and giving them extra possessions. But that’s what we did.”

Jacksonville was within one point and had the ball when a turnover turned into a transition bucket for the Comets. Another turnover ended with Qwaun Marshall going to the line with time left for just one more possession.

With a three-point lead, he missed the first foul shot, but made the second one to secure the victory. Jacksonville added a 3-pointer at the buzzer to set the final margin.

Neither coach was satisfied with the defense their teams played, especially Joyner.

“We haven’t committed to defense yet,” Joyner said. “We’ve basically given up 70 points twice, and that’s not how I want to play. We want to hold people to high 40s, low 50s, and we’re not doing that. Right now, we’re just not playing team defense very well. We’re not communicating. We’re getting our bodies out of position and taking away our own ability to make a play. We’ve got a lot of ball watchers losing contact with the defensive principles we’re trying to put in place.”

Mills coach Raymond Cooper thought his team’s defense lacked effort, and it showed in the moments when it did increase the intensity and effort.

“I will say this, there were times when they would make their runs, where we showed we could play a little defense,” said Cooper. “But we got way too complacent way too easily when we’d get a little lead. But I also have to give it to Jacksonville. They made our defense look bad. (Tyree) Appleby is tough. He can get in that lane. And they had some shooters I wasn’t really aware of that were knocking down shots when he’d kick it out to them.”

Kavion Waller, Caleb Kendrick and Braylon Hawkins made a pair of 3-pointers each, both of Kendrick’s came in the fourth quarter.

Appleby led all scorers with 29 points while senior DaJuan Ridgeway added 18, including three 3-pointers.

Hall finished with 18 for Mills. Kaevon Jones had 11 and Marshall finished with 10 for the Comets.

The two teams meet up again this Friday at Jacksonville High. Both coaches think it’s likely to be just as exciting, if not as high-scoring.

“We know a little more about them now and we know what we have to do better than we did the first time,” Cooper said.

Joyner expects Mills to be better defensively, and so thinks it’s imperative that his team is as well.

“If we’re not, it’s going to be a butt-kicking,” Joyner said. “We watched the tape. We saw the lack of team defense. So I hope they’ll do something about it. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but that’s one area where I hope we’ll improve.”

The Lady Titans improved to 3-1 in their busy first week of the season, dominating the Mills Lady Comets 58-24. Jacksonville jumped out to a 17-8 lead in the first quarter, and wasn’t able to add to that margin by halftime. But the second half was all Titans.

Jacksonville turned up the defensive pressure and turned a 27-18-halftime lead into a 43-20 lead by the end of the third.

Mills managed just six points the entire second half.

Jacksonville forced 28 turnovers and scored 35 points off those turnovers.

Four Lady Titans finished in double figures scoring. Dayzya Jordan led the way with 16 points. Josie Starr added 13, Shy Christopher 12 and Martina Knight 11.

Senior Taylor Toombs scored three points and had game-high 11 rebounds.