Friday, January 06, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Titan press crumbles Fair

By RAY BENTON Leader sports editor

A furious rally in the last two and a half minutes saved an otherwise lackluster performance Tuesday at JHS, as the Titans overcame a nine-point deficit with 2:11 remaining to beat J.A. Fair 56-52.

The War Eagles’ last basket epitomized the whole game for Jacksonville (11-6, 1-0), and maybe woke the home team up. Fair junior guard Mickael Foust was the only War Eagle among four Titans lined up for his free throws with 2:30 to play. He missed the front end of a one-and-one, got his own rebound and scored to give the visitors a 51-42 lead.

Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner called timeout, and called for fullcourt pressure after his team’s next possession.

“That was just a lack of focus,” Joyner said of allowing the rebound and putback. “Nobody boxed out the shooter, and then everybody’s standing around trying to figure out who to blame for not getting the rebound, and he just scores. We had to press at that point, and they woke up and went to work.”

Tyree Appleby got to the rim and was fouled on that possession. He made 1 of 2 foul shots, and Jacksonville’s halfcourt trap forced a backcourt violation. DaJuan Ridgeway then made a 22-foot shot to make the score 51-46, still with 2:00 to go.

Appleby then got a steal and passed to Ridgeway for a transition layup with 1:48 left, prompting Joyner to call a timeout.

“I know most of the time when you got a team reeling like that, you just keep it on them,” said Joyner, explaining his timeout. “I wanted the kids to celebrate something. It had been a drag of a game. I wanted to give them a little break too so they could celebrate and take a minute to do what they were capable of doing.”

Foust got back to the line for Fair on the next possession. He made 1 of 2 with 1:31 left, and it was the War Eagles’ last point of the game.

Ridgeway took the inbound pass after the free throw and went the length of the court for another layup that made it 52-50 just nine seconds later.

Fair (9-4, 0-1) could not get the ball even near the midcourt line on its next possession, and turned it over on a 10-second violation with 1:09 remaining.

Appleby made 1 of 2 on the next possession to pull the Titans to within one point.

On Fair’s next possession, Antoine Davis almost had a steal for Jacksonville, but the ball he knocked loose went out of bounds. It still ended up being a big play, because Ridgeway then stole the inbounds pass and was fouled attempting a transition layup.

He made both free throws with 41 seconds to go, giving Jacksonville a 53-52 lead, its first since it led 7-6 midway through the first quarter.

Harderrious Martin then got another steal for Jacksonville, and that turned into two free throws by Appleby that made it 55-52 with 24 seconds remaining.

Fair got two shots on its final possession, but neither were close. Cedric Christopher’s shot was altered by Martin, who sprung out on the shooter as he released. Foust got the rebound and kicked out to Daevon Bankston at the top of the key.

Christian White got a hand in his shooting path, forcing a line drive shot that clanged off the front of the rim. Ridgeway got the rebound and was fouled with one second left. He made the first and missed the second to set the final margin.

Ridgeway led the charge, scoring 11 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter.

“We just asked coach, let’s go 0-100, that’s our fullcourt press,” said Ridgeway. “(Appleby) wasn’t on like he usually is, and he saw that I was on, so he told me to just take it. So I just went for it.”

Joyner had it in mind to call the press anyway, and wishes his team had played well enough not to be in that situation.

“I didn’t call for the press and they didn’t call for the press, the situation called for the press,” Joyner said. “That was a no-brainer. Down nine with two minutes left, what else are you going to do?

“If I had a few more guards I could rely on, we’d press like that all the time. This is an athletic team. We just don’t have the depth to do that from start to finish. What we could do, is work harder in practice, and we wouldn’t be in these situations.”

That idea may have caught on with the team’s leader and leading scorer.

“I think we need to practice harder than we do,” said Appleby. “You play like you practice, and we looked like we did early on because that’s how we practice.

“It was big getting this win. First conference game. We just have to learn from what we did wrong and work harder in practice.”

Leading up to the final few minutes, Jacksonville’s performance was rife with missed layups, missed free throws, and even two missed dunks. There was also the 1-on-4 situation with Foust’s free throws.

“We miss those in games because we don’t contest each other in practice,” Joyner said. “They don’t compete in practice like my championship teams did. Those guys were ultra competitive and they competed in practice. These guys, if somebody gets a steal, they just watch him shoot a layup. Somebody makes a good post move and gets by, no attempt to recover and contest. Just watch. So when that happens in a game, and it’s contested, they miss. If they were used to that from competing with each other, they’d make more of those.”

Appleby added 19 for Jacksonville. UALR signee Kris Bankston led J.A. Fair with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Khyron Gilbert and Foust came off the bench to score 14 and 13 respectively for the War Eagles.