Friday, December 30, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Titans to final of Coke Classic

Leader sports editor

FORT SMITH – The Jacksonville boys’ basketball team picked up a solid win Wednesday in the first round of the Coke Classic at UA-Fort Smith. The Titans opened the tournament in a largely empty, cold gym, and slogged through the first quarter. But that changed in the second as they knocked off Little Rock Hall 69-65.

The Titans trailed 13-8 at the end of the first quarter, but outscored Hall 14-2 over the first four and a half minutes of the second. Hall answered to tie the game at 28 by halftime, but Jacksonville controlled most of the third quarter en route to the win.

“I think both teams kind of came out slow,” said Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner. “Both teams were feeling each other out. Second quarter we got going and we started trading some right crosses and left hooks. It was just a good back-and-forth game.”

The Titans were a bit shorthanded. Five players were suspended for missing practice time during the Christmas break. It was also the first game in which leading scorer Tyree Appleby took over as the main point guard on the floor. Appleby is averaging almost 25 points per game this season. And despite only having two points at halftime, Joyner was pleased with his effort.

“We put him in a new role and he kept us in the game in the first quarter,” Joyner said. “The first half he was concentrating on getting everybody settled down and into our game plan. He didn’t score much but he had a great first half.”

Joyner took Appleby out of the game after the early second-quarter run, and that’s when Hall made its comeback.

“Early on, whenever I would take Appleby or (DaJuan) Ridgeway out, Hall would start pressing. Like I said, we were shorthanded and they got kind of overwhelmed at first. But I thought our bench guys like Caleb Kendrick, Braylon Hawkins and Braylin Estes came on strong in the second half and handled things a lot better.”

Jacksonville, though considerably smaller inside, got strong defensive play and rebounding from sophomore Joe Phillips and senior Chris Williams.

“I challenged Joe before the game to step up and be a force in the middle for us, because he’s got the body to do it,” Joyner said. “He’s only a sophomore, but it’s time he started being aggressive. He answered that challenge and played like a man in there.

“Chris is really too small to be a post, but he’s a man among boys and he only knows one speed. He’s only about 6-1, but he’s going to give you every bit of that 6-1 he’s got. Those two were strong defensively, and they kept a lot of balls alive for us rebounding and gave us some second-chance opportunities we wouldn’t have had if they hadn’t play so hard.”

Appleby quickly outdid his point total in the first half by hitting a 3-pointer to open the third quarter. He then stole the inbound pass and hit a layup for a quick five-point advantage.

Hall went with pressure defensively and that opened the floor for the scorer. He posted 16 points in the second half to finish with a team-high 18.

Jacksonville led 67-60 with two minutes remaining before guard Maurio Goggins spurred a Warrior rally. Goggins made a long 3-pointer to make it a four-point game. He then forced a turnover that turned into free throws for Hall.

Though the front end of the one-and-one was missed. Goggins got the rebound and putback to make it 67-65 with 15 seconds remaining.

Hall then fouled Appleby with only enough time left for one more possession. He made both foul shots to set the final margin.

Williams finished with 17 points for the Titans (9-5) while Phillips had 13 points and nine rebounds. Ridgeway finished with 12 for Jacksonville.

Goggins led all scorers with 27 points.

The Titans were back to full strength on Thursday and advanced to the tournament championship game by defeating Fort Smith Southside 57-46. Despite the victory, Joyner wasn’t as pleased with his team’s effort against the Mavericks as he was the previous night.

“We just didn’t play with as much intensity and effort,” said Joyner. “They’re not as athletic as a lot of the teams we’ve seen, and I think we just kind of coasted at times instead of trying to put them away. I just don’t think we played very good.”

Jacksonville faced Fort Smith Northside in the championship game on Friday. The Grizzlies upset nationally ranked El Dorado to earn a spot in the title game. Look for details that matchup in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader.

Al Pollard contributed to this story.