Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

SPORTS >>Red Devils ‘grow up’ at Conway

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils ended up with third place in the Conway Invitational over the weekend. Jacksonville lost 68-57 to Benton in the semifinal round, then defeated the hosting Wampus Cats 53-48 Saturday in the third-place game. The team improved its overall record to 2-4 on the season.

In Friday’s game, Jacksonville was able to force a tempo that wasn’t to the Panthers’ liking, but wasn’t able to stop senior guard Brandon Jones, who piled up 34 points on the Red Devils.

Benton, who likes to sit back in a zone and play a slow style of ball, was forced to run with Jacksonville when the Red Devils came out with heavy pressure for the first time this season. The two teams traded baskets for most of the first half, but a couple of key mistakes at the end of the half by Jacksonville turned the game. With less than two minutes left in the half, Jacksonville committed two consecutive turnovers that Benton turned into points. It went from tied at 20-20 to Benton entering halftime with a 25-20 lead.

“That was the turning point of the game because we weren’t able to deal with going into halftime on a downer like that,” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said. “I had a bunch of emotions and pouting and stuff to deal with before I could even make any adjustments. That set the tone in the third and they were able to get some distance.”

Jacksonville upped the tempo again in the fourth and tried to mount a comeback. Benton’s 49-33 lead at the end of the third was too much to overcome, despite Jacksonville’s game-high 24 points in the final frame.

Senior guard Terrell Eskridge led Jacksonville with 17 points while sophomore DeShone McClure added 15.

On Saturday, the Red Devils not only ended the tournament with a win, but also “grew up” somewhat, according to Joyner.
In a volatile atmosphere and a rowdy, very pro-Conway crowd, Jacksonville maintained its composure down the stretch to pull out a big win.

Jacksonville scored 38 of its 53 total points in the first and fourth quarters, scored five in the second and 10 in the third.
Their defensive pressure was enough to send the Red Devils into intermission clinging to a 22-17 lead, but that changed in the third when Conway exploded for 19 to take a 36-32 lead into the final frame.

It got worse from there. The Wampus Cats pushed the lead to as much as 10 points with just four minutes left in the game.
That’s when Jacksonville grew up.

Trailing by double digits with less than half a quarter left to play on the opposition’s home floor, the Red Devils not only rallied to get back into it, but won going away, closing the show with a 19-4 run.

Guards LaQuentin Miles and Eskridge led the comeback offensively, but it was the play of junior point guard Stanley Appleby that drew much praise from the head Red Devil.

Appleby had been the backup point guard to Eskridge through the first several games of the season, but took over the spot on a more full-time basis in order to move the 6-foot senior to the two and give the team another scoring threat.
Joyner believes he did a great job.

“Appleby played the best game he’s played since he’s been here,” Joyner said of the North Pulaski transfer. “He was aggressive and played with some confidence. He found the open man. He just did what we need him to do.”

The main thing that Joyner bragged about was the composure his team showed. Unlike the night before, when his team got down on the scoreboard, it didn’t get down on itself.

“We grew up a little bit,” Joyner said. “I’d like to say we grew up a lot, but we’ll have to wait and see how long this lasts. If this team will take that attitude into the rest of the season, we’ll be able to look back on this game as the game when we grew up, because that’s how it’s going to be in conference games. It’s going to be hostile and there’s going to be calls we don’t like, hostile crowds and we’re going to have to overcome those things. So I’m not going to say right now that this got us over the hump, but you can see progress.”

Miles led the Red Devils with 14 points against Conway while Eskridge finished with 11.

Jacksonville played at Little Rock Central last night after Leader deadlines, and will host a return match against crosstown rival North Pulaski on Friday.