Tuesday, February 28, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Titans win, but earn toughest state draw

Leader sports editor

PINE BLUFF – The Jacksonville Titans overcame two ludicrous technical fouls, their second-leading scorer knocked out of the game in the first 20 seconds and 10 points wiped off the scoreboard for no good reason, yet still came away with a 79-69 victory over the Pine Bluff Zebras on Saturday in the 6A-East District tournament.

And what did overcoming all that adversity do for the Titans? It earned a much tougher draw in the Class 6A state tournament than Pine Bluff.

In fact, Jacksonville probably got the toughest draw in the tournament. For beating the Zebras for the third time this year, Jacksonville has to play tournament host Lake Hamilton in the opening round, and a win in that game means a second-round matchup with the undefeated and nationally ranked Jonesboro Golden Hurricanes.

“It all goes through Jonesboro anyway,” said Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner before finding out if his team was going to play Lake Hamilton or Benton. “If you’re going to win 6A this year, you’re probably going to have to beat Jonesboro to do it. So I don’t care where we end up.”

Benton beat Lake Hamilton 55-47 in overtime Saturday night in Benton. So Pine Bluff earns the six seed from the 6A-East and plays fifth-seeded Benton, while Jacksonville has to play the state tournament host team on its home floor.

As for Friday’s game, things went south early for Jacksonville when DaJuan Ridgeway’s mouth got busted open on the game’s opening possession. Ridgeway stole the ball, and took a forearm to the mouth just as he passed to Harderrious Martin for a wide-open, transition layup.

But the basket didn’t count. The officials blew the whistle just as Martin scored, but only called a halt to the action, and did not call a foul for the violent blow. Those were the first two JHS points wiped off the board.

Shortly thereafter, Titan point guard Tyree Appleby had a 3-pointer waived off for traveling. Appleby caught a pass a few inches in front of the 3-point line, and stepped backwards before launching the shot.

Joyner protested the call as the ball came back towards his end of the floor, and the head official stopped the action. He instructed Joyner that he would only listen and talk to the head coach. When Joyner told him he was the head coach, he was called for a technical foul.

Pine Bluff made 1 of 2 free throws, then made a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession to take a 13-4 lead. But the controversy ignited the Titans, and they answered with a 12-0 run to take a 16-13 lead with just seconds left in the first quarter.

Pine Bluff scored at the buzzer to cut it to one, and every basket for the first half of the second period resulted in a lead change.

The score was tied 27-27 when Caleb Kendrick had one of his 3-pointers waived off for traveling. Kendrick caught the pass in the air and came down one foot at a time before launching his shot. That was also called traveling, bringing the total points waived off by officials to eight.

Jacksonville (17-14) eventually took a 32-21 lead into intermission.

The Titans got up 43-36 early in the third, but Pine Bluff hit back-to-back 3-pointers to shave that back to one in just 25 seconds. Appleby was then clotheslined on a transition layup attempt with no call. He was then hit with a technical for complaining about the no-call.

Jacksonville got the lead back up to 53-48, but Parker made a 30-footer at the buzzer to make it a two-point game going into the final period. The fourth quarter began with Jacksonville’s Mark Smith called for a charge on a play with no defender in front of him and no contact on his layup.

Pine Bluff was still within three points with 1:49 remaining, but Jacksonville closed the game with a 9-2 run to seal the victory.

Parker led Pine Bluff (19-8) with 18 points. DeQuan Morris added 14 and Kendrick Thorn added 13 for the Zebras.

Appleby led all scorers with 31 while Martin added 12 and White 10. But it was three other guards that Joyner singled out for praise.

“Mark Smith, Caleb Kendrick and Braylon Hawkins stepped up when Ridgeway went down,” Joyner said. “This team still has a chance to come together, and we need guys like that to play a role. They did that today and we didn’t lose a lot having Ridgeway on the bench.”