Tuesday, January 03, 2017

SPORT STORY >> Jacksonville can’t stop hot Grizzlies

By RAY BENTON Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Titans beat one of Little Rock’s best teams, and one of the home teams at the Coke Classic in Fort Smith last week, but couldn’t make it three in a row against another one of the host schools. The Titans lost 64-52 to Fort Smith Northside on Friday at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith in the tournament championship game.

The Grizzlies (8-3) were as athletic as any team Jacksonville has faced, and were as hot from the floor as any team the Titans have played this year.

Northside made 10 of 17 from 3-point range, including three in the first quarter that led to a 15-4 lead just four minutes into the game.

Jacksonville, however, rallied from that point and tied the game at 15-15 by the end of the opening frame.

“I thought we matched up pretty well athletically, said Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner. “They just played with a little more intensity than we did, and they were on from outside. They had the home crowd behind them and just played with more energy than we did. I think they wanted it a little bit more.

“It was two tired teams. We both beat top-notch teams in the semifinals. They just brought a little more to the championship game, and I think playing at home had something to do with it.”

Northside opened the second quarter with another run, spurred by a trapping defense that took the Titans some time to figure out. The Grizzlies didn’t pile on a bunch of points in a hurry, but slowly expanded its advantage to 12 over the course of the quarter.

Jacksonville (10-6) went almost seven minutes without a point. Caleb Kendrick came off the bench for Jacksonville and hit a 3-pointer with 1:20 left in the half to pull the Titans to within 27-18.

Northside’s Tevin Brewer answered right back with his own 3-pointer, the Grizzlies’ first of the period, to make it 30-18.

Mark Smith then added a driving layup for Jacksonville that sent the game into halftime with the host team leading 30-20.

Jacksonville solved Northside’s press at halftime, but didn’t dampen the Grizzlies’ shooting prowess.

The Titans were able to get to the rim and the free-throw line, but Northside’s first three baskets of the second half were all from outside.”

“They can shoot, but we weren’t closing out on their shooters like we should’ve been,” Joyner said. “We should’ve been coming back on them. We started breaking the press and getting some baskets, but we weren’t carrying that over to the defensive end, and never could get all the way back in it. We cut it to four or five a couple times, but just couldn’t get all the way back.”

The third quarter was the best one offensively for Jacksonville, but the Titans still trailed by 10, 48-38, by the beginning of the fourth.

Northside spread the floor and began stalling at the very beginning of the fourth quarter. Jacksonville’s DaJuan Ridgeway made a 3-pointer that pulled the Titans to within 52-46 with 4:24 remaining, and Joyner called timeout.

He called for fullcourt pressure to get the Grizzlies out of stall mode, but they proved too quick and precise. The first possession out of the break resulted in a layup for Northside. Jacksonville then missed an open layup, and Northside beat the Titans down the floor for another quick layup and a 10-point lead.

That forced another Jacksonville timeout just 39 seconds after the previous one, and the Titans never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.

Brewer, Northside’s 5-foot-5 point guard, scored 23 points to lead all scorers. He was also named the tournament MVP, averaging 30 points per game, including 43 in a first-round win over Charleston, and 24 in the 72-66 victory over nationally ranked El Dorado.

Demichael Whitfield added 15 for Northside while Isaiah Joe scored 14.

Tyree Appleby scored 15 to lead Jacksonville. He and Ridgeway were named to the All-Tournament team.

Jacksonville opened conference play Tuesday at home against J.A. Fair. Look for details of that game in Saturday’s edition of The Leader. The Titans travel to Maumelle on Friday.