Friday, December 01, 2017

SPORTS STORY>>Postless Titans fall to speedy Pine Bluff

Leader sports editor

In a game that required strong inside play to have any chance, Jacksonville was without both its starting post players, and still almost pulled off an upset. Ultimately, the Pine Bluff Zebras were able to escape with a 54-48 victory over the Titans on Tuesday at PBHS.

The Titans are also still without their head coach, Vic Joyner, who had an unscheduled surgery last Monday. Assistant coach Brandon Weems has taken over in the interim, and devised a strategy to beat the streaking Zebras that almost worked.

“I saw when they beat Conway that everything goes through their big man,” said Weems. “They want a lot of paint touches and everything usually goes through him. So we decided to play some zone and try to limit his touches.”

Without his two returning starters inside, Weems turned to a pair of freshmen, cousins R.J. and Jordan Maxwell to play the four and five spots respectively. He was very pleased with their effort.

“We asked two freshmen to step up and play strong defense against a big strong guy,” Weems said. “They did that. I was very proud of their effort, especially Jordan who had to battle him down low. Those two impressed me. We know they can play. That’s why they’re up on varsity. R.J. is going to be a scorer. Jordan can score. To step up and play defense like that showed a lot more.”

Jacksonville built a 10-point lead in the first quarter, and maintained about that margin until just before halftime. That’s when Pine Bluff got hot from outside and made it an even game the rest of the way.

“They’re not a great shooting team, but they can get hot and you expect them to shoot better at home,” Weems said.

Pine Bluff led by two with about 90 seconds remaining, and Weems switched to a man defense to keep the Zebras from running out the clock.

The Titans couldn’t get a game-tying bucket to fall, and was forced to foul. Pine Bluff made the free throws down the stretch to pull out the victory.

The loss drops Jacksonville to 1-3 this season, but Weems was still pleased with what he saw as a lot of progress from the first three games.

“I told them I’d rather have the effort that lost this one over the one that beat Monticello by 20,” Weems said.

Jacksonville has nine-consecutive days off before beginning play in the Fayetteville tournament next Thursday. The layoff comes at just the right time, according to Weems.

“Well Joe (Phillips) still has his foot issue and we lost Mike (Terry) in practice. He hurt his knee so we’re waiting to see exactly what his injury is. I don’t usually like these long stretches but it kind of works out for us this time.”

The Titans open play at Fayetteville on Thursday against the hosting Bulldogs.