Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

SPORTS >>Devils drop Hurricane

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

There was no cake awaiting Barry Pruitt after this one.

The celebration on Friday night was all Jacksonville’s after the Red Devils got a huge momentum boost heading into the state tournament with a 59-52 win over defending state champion Jonesboro at the Devil’s Den.

“This ain’t my first rodeo, but it’s my last,” said Jacksonville assistant Jerry Wilson, who assumed the head coaching duties with Vic Joyner serving a mandatory one-game suspension for two technical fouls last Tuesday at Mountain Home. “But that’s just a reflection of the type of program we have here. I just executed what’s been here the whole year.

“We were 3-9, and everybody counted us out. We’re 0-0 again.”

The game meant nothing to either team in terms of tournament seedings — the Red Devils were locked in as a No. 3 seed, while Jonesboro (20-6, 12-2) had already won the 6A-East title. But, for Jacksonville (13-13, 10-4), it meant reversing course from a late-season swoon. The Red Devils had lost three of four entering the contest.

Jacksonville takes on Texarkana in the opening round of the 6A state tournament tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. at Little Rock Hall.
Pruitt, Jonesboro’s long-time head coach, won his 50oth career game when the Hurricane beat Jacksonville last month, and celebrated with a cake. Though he had plenty of praise for Jacksonville afterward on Friday, he also stressed that the game meant little to his team.

“A team like Jacksonville is a lothurt us on the boards.”

Though the Red Devils finished with just a two-rebound advantage, they made the most of their offensive boards, getting five putbacks. No one was more dominant on the glass for Jacksonville than Demetrius Harris, who came off the bench to score 13 points and grab 11 rebounds.

“Antwan Lockhart was under the weather tonight,” Wilson said. “Demetrius came off the bench and played big. Antonio gave us a big game, too.”

That would be Antonio Roy, who grabbed seven rebounds in the first half — eight overall, and added six points.

The Red Devils held a couple of eight-point leads early in the second half, before the Hurricane began to get a lot of easy lane penetration from Lucas Nutt. That led to some easy buckets and a 15-7 run that allowed Jonesboro to knot the game at 38 with 21 seconds left in the third period.

But Jacksonville reserve Darius Morant hit a three from the left corner as time expired to give the Red Devils a 41-38 lead entering the final period. Jacksonville never trailed again.

“We closed up a little bit,” Wilson said of Jacksonville’s fourth-quarter defense. “They tied us and we didn’t get rattled. Then, Morant hit that three to put us up.”

Harris’ post-up basket with 6:20 left in the game opened up a 45-40 Jacksonville lead. Nutt’s three-pointer narrowed the gap to one, but Harris scored inside, and Cortrell Eskridge took a feed from Terrell Eskridge for a fast-break bucket, and Jacksonville reclaimed a five-point lead at the 5:07 mark. That was one of Terrell Eskridge’s seven assists.

The lead was still five after Harris got a stickback off his own miss with three minutes left. Jonesboro got it to 53-50, but Deshone McClure, who led the Red Devils with 14 points, made two free throws and banked in an eight-footer to make it 57-50.

Jonesboro’s last hopes were dashed when Josh Calamese missed a three-pointer with 43 seconds left. Cortrell Eskridge made two free throws to set the final margin.

“I told them before the game, it would have to be our big men that had to step up,” Wilson said. “And you know what? They did. Deshone McClure hit some big threes. We didn’t take bad shots and we ran the floor. We feel like we beat a pretty good
team.”

In addition to McClure’s 14 points and Harris’ 13, LaQuinton Miles added 10 points and four steals. Roy and Cortrell Eskridge added six apiece.

“It was a total team effort, a great crowd and good team play,” Wilson said. “I’m trying to find something that was negative, but I can’t.”