SPORTS>> Devil press breaks Pointers
Leader sports editor
Jacksonville has played two drastically different types of games so far in the Wampus Cat Invitational tournament at Conway High School. In the opening game of the tournament, Jacksonville fell 51-45 to undefeated Benton in what Red Devil coach Vic Joyner described as his team’s most uninspired performance he’s ever seen. “There was just no energy at all,” Joyner said. “I’ve never seen a team of mine play like that. Even my teams that weren’t very good at least tried. We weren’t doing anything.”
The Red Devils bounced back in game two Thursday night to hammer Van Buren 67-41. The team got a lift from the return of point guard Turrell Eskridge, who missed the Benton matchup. Eskridge is the starting point guard on a team that’s very shallow on experienced perimeter players. His absence was apparent Tuesday, and his presence was equally as apparent Thursday.
“It just gave us a big lift emotionally as much as anything to have him back,” Joyner said. “What the real difference was, we spent about two hours breaking down the tape from the Benton game, and they got to see how bad they played. After that we had a really good, spirited practice, and they brought it to the game.” Jacksonville jumped ahead by double digits right away and maintained that lead throughout the evening. Playing an aggressive pressure defense, the Red Devils were able to force the tempo and create a lot of transition baskets early on.
“They only played seven guys and we knew that, so we wanted to really apply the pressure early,” Joyner said. “They weren’t quite ready for how quick we are, and we were able to get out to a good lead.” The Pointers settled down and protected the ball much better over most of the second and third quarters. Jacksonville’s 20-10 lead after one frame had grown to just 44-32 by the start of the fourth. That’s when depth began to play a major factor.
“They (the Pointers) run some really good sets and execute it well,” Joyner said. “Once they settled down and adjusted to what we were doing, I was real pleased with how we handled that. We went out and executed our offense. We weren’t great, but we were good enough to maintain the lead. We actually got some points in the paint from our post players and that kept us ahead until the fourth quarter. We challenged our post guys before the game and they stepped up. A lot of that was the guards not getting it to them, and they did much better too. It was like a different team.”
While the scoring pace slowed in the middle periods, the effort level didn’t. Jacksonville was still forcing Van Buren to work hard for open shots, and by the fourth quarter, the Pointers were ill equipped to fend off another wave of Red Devil pressure.
Damien Akins led the Red Devils in scoring for the first time this season with 12 points. Sophomore Cortrell Eskridge added 11 while Kajuan Watson and Antwain Lockhart scored nine each. Jacksonville also got a solid game from sophomore point guard Antonio Washington.
“He played his best game,” Joyner said. “For the first time he brought the ball down the court looking to set the offense in motion instead of looking for his shot first.” The Red Devils will face tournament host Conway at 2:30 p.m. today in the final of the boys consolation bracket.