Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

SPORTS>>Jacksonville grows up in loss to ’Canes

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils’ losing streak reached four games and the team dropped into a tie for last place in the 6A-East Friday night with an 88-73 loss to No. 2 Jonesboro. All four losses have come on the road due to scheduling changes caused by the installation of new bleachers at Jacksonville’s Devils Den. While the team is still in search of its first conference road win, and first win of the season outside the city of Jacksonville, head coach Victor Joyner believes the team made strides Friday night.

“If it weren’t for the turnovers, we would have had this team,” Joyner said. “Our weaknesses played right into their strengths. They have a lot of athletes and they put a lot of pressure on your guards, and that’s where we lack experience the most. I knew if the guards handled the pressure the big men would have a big game. The big men had big games, but it could’ve been a lot better. We just committed too many turnovers.”

Despite the turnovers, Joyner thought the team showed progress in playing through adversity and hanging close when the hosting Hurricane looked to be on the verge of running away. The first run came in the first quarter. Jonesboro’s lead grew to as much as 15 points right away as the piled up 28 points in the opening frame. All season long when Jonesboro put a team down early, the job was finished soon after.

Jacksonville though, came back and cut the margin to three points midway through the second quarter. The Red Devils simply couldn’t sustain the run. Fouls and turnovers prevented them from getting any closer and Jonesboro, perhaps the most explosive team in the state, was back up by 15 by halftime. Jonesboro took their biggest lead of the game at 50-33 to that point with a bucket to open up the third quarter. Again, Jacksonville climbed back into the game by breaking the Hurricane pressure and feeding the ball inside.

The deficit dwindled to eight points before another rash of fouls and turnovers allowed Jonesboro to race back out to a 21-point lead. The Hurricane led 74-53 by the end of the third. Jacksonville trimmed 11-point points off that lead again in the fourth, but couldn’t get back to within single digits. “They’re (Jonesboro) is so explosive and can put points on you so fast, you can’t allow for any mistakes,” Joyner said. “We’re still not playing well enough to not make any mistakes, but I think this team grew up a little bit. They came in motivated, and they didn’t let up when it looked like we were getting blown out. They didn’t let up when we were losing guys left and right to fouls. They just didn’t let up for any reason. It’s hard to grow up from a loss, but I think we did that in a way.”

Leading scorer Kajuan Watson, junior point guard Terrell Eskridge and sophomore forward Cortrell Eskridge all fouled out in the game. As Joyner stated, the post players led the way in scoring. Senior Norvel Gabriel finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds. Senior Gerron Riddles added 14 points while sophomore Antwain Lockhart pitched in 12. Jacksonville played at Searcy last night after Leader deadlines, and will finish it’s long road journey Friday at Marion. Look for details of Tuesday’s game in Saturday’s edition of the Leader.