SPORTS>> Shots won't fall, Devils do
Leader sports editor
The Christmas season brings joy and magic to many, but the final round of the Red Devil Classic wasn’t a magical event for the Red Devils in Friday night’s championship game. It was still a good run for Jacksonville, although it lost 49-39 to Olive Branch, Miss., in the title matchup. Jacksonville trailed the towering Conquistadors throughout the game. The margin through the first half stayed between six and 10 points most of the time. After falling behind 30-20 early in the third quarter, Jacksonville roared back with a 14-4 run that tied the game at 34-34 with 1:32 left in the quarter.
Brian Washington sparked the run, hitting a bucket and getting two steals, one of which led to the three pointer by Antwan Robinson that tied the game. OB called timeout, and from there Jacksonville couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Jacksonville managed just one free throw the rest of the quarter, and didn’t score at all in the fourth for over four minutes. The Red Devil defense was still very effective, and when Damien Akins hit his three pointer with 3:45 left in the game, it cut the Conquistadors’ lead to 39-38. Unfortunately, Akins’ shot was the only one Jacksonville would make for the rest of the game while OB finally began to find the range.
Jacksonville’s strategy to foul would have worked if the Red Devils could have made a shot from the floor. OB made just two of six attempts at the line in the fourth quarter when Jacksonville resorted to fouling, but the Red Devils hit just one of 15 field goal attempts in the final frame. They made just 14 of 57 shots the entire game Friday, a 24.5 percent shooting effort.
It was the second straight game that Jacksonville shot under 30 percent. The Devils managed to beat Memphis Overton despite a 29-percent effort, but Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner isn’t worried too much about the shooting woes continuing.
“I see them shoot every day in practice and I know they can shoot the basketball,” Joyner said. “We executed. When you get your shooters wide open looks, you’re executing your offense. I don’t think it was a matter of not being able to play in the big moments. I watched the tape and they weren’t rushing shots, they weren’t forcing anything. They just weren’t making them. And it they weren’t missing my much. Almost everything was rattling around and coming out. They were off by millimeters.”
Jacksonville was also on the wrong end of the rebounding totals, a category the Red Devils usually dominate, but the height and athleticism of the Conquistadors gave them a 34-19 advantage on the boards. “They were prepared for how we attack the boards,” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said. “Their coach told me he noticed that watching us, and they got a bunch a tall, aggressive guys. Our big guys were still in position, but they just had more of them and they got higher than ours did. We also didn’t have any guards down there rebounding like we have been. Their big guy turned a few shots away early when they went in there, and I think we got reluctant to get in there some more and became a perimeter shooting team.”
Joyner was still pleased with the defense, and with the overall effort.“We held them to 10 points in the fourth quarter,” Joyner said. “They played hard. They busted their butts out there and gave us an opportunity to win. That’s all you want, is an opportunity to win the game.” Jacksonville’s big men played well throughout the tournament. Norvel Gabriel would likely have been the tournament MVP had Jacksonville won. Gerron Riddles showed improved movement and footwork in creating his own shots on the block, and sophomore Antwain Lockhart held his own against the biggest team Jacksonville will face this year.
It all just happened to coincide with the worst shooting slump the team has seen this season. “I feel good about how we’re playing,” Joyner said. “We need more points from our two spot. We only got 23 points in three games from there in the tournament, and we run a lot plays for that position. I think Lockhart played very well for a sophomore against those big guys. Norvel had an excellent tournament. We just have to shoot better.” OB’s Chucky Tungstall led all scorers and rebounders with 16 points and nine boards. Rod Pegues was the only other player in double figures with 10 points.
Gabriel led Jacksonville with eight points. The Red Devils will begin conference play this Friday at home against Marion.