Tuesday, December 13, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Titans take down two in 7A-West

Leader sports editor

Despite being shorthanded and without their head coach, the Jacksonville Titans rebounded from a disappointing start to the Fayetteville tournament to close with a pair of wins over 7A-West competition.

The Titans (7-3) lost leading scorer Tyree Appleby early in the third quarter of a tournament opening loss to Harrison. They continued to struggle through the first half against Springdale on Friday, but found the right defense to take control in the second half.

On Saturday, Jacksonville beat the host team Fayetteville 47-44 despite also not having second-leading scorer DaJuan Ridgeway for the first half. The consolation game tipped off in the morning before Ridgeway could complete the ACT. He got to the game at halftime, finished with nine points and was named to the All-Tournament team.

Assistant Brandon Weems coached the entire tournament because head coach Vic Joyner was recovering from pneumonia.

Weems believes the team chemistry the Titans found without Appleby will be a boost to the team in the long run.

“Appleby has the ability to just create a lot of offense,” said Weems. “And at times, I think we fell into a habit of just watching and waiting for him to do something. He can either get to the rim himself or he can kick it out to an open man. We don’t really have anyone else who can create like that, but we do have a lot of guys who can shoot. So we had to rely on executing our offense in order to get those open shots. It took a little while. We were pretty out of sync all the way through the first half of the Springdale game, but we started executing after that and played pretty good the rest of the tournament.”

On Friday, Springdale led 31-23 at halftime, and still held a 38-32 advantage going into the fourth quarter. Jacksonville then turned up the defensive pressure and outscored the Bulldogs 23-9 in the fourth to take a 53-47 victory.

Ridgeway led all scorers with 22 points while Kavion Waller added nine, all on 3-pointers.

The win over Fayetteville was a back-and-forth affair. Fayetteville led 12-8 after one quarter, but the score was tied 23-23 at halftime. The host Bulldogs then won the third quarter 14-11 before Jacksonville again closed with pressure and held Fayetteville to just seven points in the fourth period.

Junior post player Christian White defended the rim when the Titans extended the defense, and did an outstanding job.

“We went to a little 2-2-1 and extended out to about halfcourt to the three-quarters,” Weems said. “They broke it a few times and we knew that would happen. But they still had trouble scoring because of how well Christian was playing. They got to where they were afraid to take it on in because of how he was playing. They started settling for short pull-ups instead of challenging him. He was a man back there.”

It wasn’t just the late defense that led to the win, early offensive execution played a role as well.

“Our first possession of the Fayetteville game was a good example of how we started executing,” Weems said. “I think it was nine passes and a wide-open 3-pointer. That was all because we were patient and executed what we set out to do.”

Junior Braylin Hawkins led Jacksonville with 11 points in the win over Fayetteville.

Springfield-Kickapoo won the tournament by beating Harrison 89-53 in the championship game.

The Lady Titans (7-7) also bounced back from a 31-point loss to Conway in the opening round of the Dondra Thomas/Wampus Cat Invitational to avenge two previous losses.

The Jacksonville ladies lost their second game of the year at Pine Bluff High School by nine points. Two weeks later, they lost by three in overtime to the Lady Zebras.

On Friday, they showed continued improvement despite also being very shorthanded by injuries, beating Pine Bluff 47-42 at Bolding Arena in Conway.

With only seven players, Jacksonville controlled the first half and took a 23-14 lead into halftime. Pine Bluff cut the margin to two by the end of the first quarter, but Jacksonville regrouped to maintain the lead and earn the victory.

Alexis James led Jacksonville with 19 points while Shy Christopher added 13.

On Saturday, Jacksonville got another crack at Hot Springs, which beat the Lady Titans 69-42 on Nov. 26. The second meeting didn’t result in a win, but the 45-30 loss still showed improvement over the last few weeks.

North Little Rock (8-0) won the Conway tournament, beating the host team 61-60 in the championship game. Conway is 7-2, and both losses were tournament title games to North Little Rock. The Lady Wildcats beat Conway 76-67 in the final of the Heavenly Hoops Classic at Mount St. Mary on Nov. 19

The Jacksonville boys and girls renew an old rivalry on Friday when they travel to Cabot. Girls tip off at 6 p.m. Boys follow.