Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

SPORTS>> Red Devils down Pats in East opener

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

Jacksonville got a big win to start conference play in the 6A-East, beating visiting Marion with relative ease 73-51 Friday night at Jacksonville High. The Red Devils never trailed, and gradually extended their lead throughout the game. One major improvement the team made against Marion over recent games was shooting percentage. The Red Devils shot a combined 27 percent in the two games prior to Marion. Against the Patriots, the Red Devils hit for 47.4 percent, making 28 of 59 attempts from the field, including five of 10 from three-point range.

The game could have been put away a little earlier, but the Red Devils made just eight of 18 free throws. Foul shots notwithstanding, Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner was pleased to see his team shooting the ball like he feels they are capable, and glad to see hard work pay off. “I am hoping beyond hope that those last two games were just flukes,” Joyner said. “I know this team can shoot. I don’t know how good this team is going to turn out to be, but let me tell you something about these guys. When they saw those shooting percentages in that tournament, you should have seen ‘em. They were coming in here on breaks, during lunch, whenever they had a chance, and shooting. They want to get better and they’re willing to work to do it.”
Much of the reason for better percentages was the many shots from close range. Post players Gerron Riddles and Antwain Lockhart took a combined 18 shots. A lot more than recent games, but still not enough for Joyner. “That’s more shots than they’ve had in the last three games combined, and we’re going to get it in there more than that,” Joyner said. “I knew we would get it inside more in this game because that’s all they’ve been hearing for a week. We have to keep that up because it doesn’t just get the big guys more points. It opens things up on the outside, and you can play inside-out, which could be a big strength for this team.”

The Red Devils got a boost from the bench in the first quarter. Starting point guard Terrell Eskridge picked up two fouls in the first minute of the game, forcing sophomore Antonio Washington into early action. Washington got two buckets in traffic off dribble penetration, and dished out two assists in the first quarter. Lockhart also came off the bench for four points in the opening frame. Senior forward Kajuan Watson hit for five points and the Red Devils raced out to a 15-5 lead.

Jacksonville stayed aggressive offensively in the second quarter, but were maybe a little too eager to put the game away defensively. Marion began making frequent trips to the line and stayed with striking distance by scoring half of their 20 points in the period from the charity stripe. Jacksonville was able to maintain a 10-point advantage at halftime, 37-27, and did it largely from the outside. Watson, along with guards Antwan Robinson and Damien Akins, hit buckets from the outside to keep the Red Devils in front.

Jacksonville went back to the inside in the third quarter. Riddles, Lockhart, LaMrcus Trask, Terrell Eskridge and sophomore Cortrell Eskridge all hit buckets from inside the paint out of the half-court offense in the third quarter. Jacksonville took a 50-34 lead into the final period and guard Brian Washington came off the bench to put a stamp on the win. Brian Washington’s eight points in the final quarter helped close the door on any attempt at a Patriot comeback. While the overall free-throw percentage was poor, Jacksonville hit five of seven in the fourth quarter to seal the win. Watson led the way with 17 points and eight rebounds. Riddles contributed 12 points and also had eight boards. Brian Washington finished with eight while four other Red Devils scored six points.

The win lifts Jacksonville to 9-5 overall and 1-0 in conference play. The Lady Devils were in the hunt until a collapse in the fourth quarter. Marion held a three-point advantage with five minutes remaining in the game, but ended up with a 53-41 victory. Marie Livings led the Lady Devils with 14 points while Marleka Bell added 12. The loss dropped Jacksonville to 4-9 overall and 0-1 in conference play.