Leader Blues

Thursday, February 21, 2008

SPORTS >>Devils fall short

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

If Jacksonville enters the state tournament as low as a No. 3 seed — which appears more and more likely — they can chalk it up to several missed free throws and a lot of second chances for West Memphis on Friday night in the Devil’s Den.

The Red Devils made only 12-of-26 free throws and got out-rebounded by 14 in falling 54-52 to the Blue Devils.

Jacksonville got a basket by Terrell Eskridge with nine seconds left, and a steal on the other end, but couldn’t get off a potential game-winning shot when a desperation pass to Deshone McClure went off his hands and out of bounds as time expired.

The loss dropped the Red Devils to 9-3 in the 6A-East, a game behind the Blue Devils, who would seem to be a lock for the No. 2 seed with closing games against Marion and Searcy.

West Memphis still has a chance to win the regular-season title as first-place Jonesboro still has Forrest City at home (last night) and Jacksonville here on Friday.

Jacksonville has a two-game lead over Forrest City and owns the tiebreak with the Mustangs, so the Red Devils are assured of nothing worse than a three seed when the state tournament begins next week.

Jacksonville head coach Vic Joyner said he couldn’t fault his team either for the poor free-throw shooting or for West Memphis’ dominance on the boards.

“They got guys a foot taller than your kids, that’s responsible for the second shots — and the lack of second shots on our end,” Joyner said. “We blocked out. I wasn’t disappointed at all with that.

“Our free throws have been on and off all year. It’s been hit and miss. We hit 87 percent in one game and then there are games when we hit 40 percent. It’s a psychological thing. You can’t harp on it. It’s not like the kids are going up there trying to miss.”

The Red Devils got a big game out of point guard Terrell Eskridge, the only senior on the team that sees significant action.
Eskridge took over the game in thefinal 1:43, when he scored six of Jacksonville’s final eight points. He provided the assist on the other basket.

Eskridge, who finished with 14 points, two assists and two blocks, hit a tough fall-away bank shot along the baseline with 1:43 left to get the Red Devils within 48-46. Trent Littlejohn, who ultimately provided the game-winning free throws for West Memphis, scored inside to extend the lead to four, but Eskridge drew a foul and hit a pair of free throws with 1:18 left.

Six-foot, seven-inch Michael Smith, one of three front line players 6-7 or taller for the Blue Devils, made a pair of free throws at the other end to push the lead to 52-48 with 43 seconds left. On the play, Demetrius Harris appeared to have a steal on Smith, but Harris was whistled for the foul

On the other end, Eskridge grabbed an offensive rebound and dished to Antwan Lockhart for a lay-up to again narrow the West Memphis lead to two with 25 seconds left.

Littlejohn made two free throws with 16 seconds left to extend the lead to four, setting up the furious finish. Eskridge drove the lane to score with nine seconds left. The Red Devils were able to chase down a long errant inbounds pass on the other side of the mid-court stripe, but it’s not certain McClure would have been able to launch the potential game-winner in time even had he corralled the long pass along the right elbow.

By going inside to Smith, 6-7 Ivan Reliford and 6-10 Anthony Borden, West Memphis was able to knock down 12-of-18 second-half shots, yet Joyner was anything but unhappy with his team’s defense.

“We made them make difficult shots,” he said. “The defense was solid and the kids followed the game plan of forcing their big men off the blocks. But they were knocking down 10-12 foot shots with our people right on them.”

With West Memphis playing a box-and-one on sophomore Deshone McClure, the Red Devils got some open looks in the corner, but made only 4-of-15 from beyond the arc. That, Joyner said, may have been more of a turning point than the free throw and rebounding woes.

“[LaQuinton Miles] had about four open three-pointers,” Joyner said. “If he hits those, they’re in trouble. I felt bad for him because he’s been struggling a little bit from outside. But he has such a passion for the game, and he and I went and worked on his shot [Sunday] for about an hour and a half.”

In addition to Eskridge’s 14 points, Lockhart scored 12, and McClure added 11. Miles added six and Harris had five points and six boards.

“Demetrius had a big game for us,” Joyner said. “And Antwan is only at about 75 percent. His ankle is still really sore, but he’s limping around out there battling with the big boys with all his heart.”

As far as Eskridge’s big game, Joyner said he has had that in him all year.

“Terrell has been a little frustrated all year because of the lack of experience of this team,” Joyner said. “He’s been taking a backseat to his teammates to try to get some confidence in them. He’s a totally unselfish kid. He can [take it to the basket] on almost any possession. But he has the mind frame that his role is to initiate the offense and not be the offense.”

Last night, the Red Devils traveled to Mountain Home, a trip that is always a difficult one, Joyner said.

“You’re already 10-12 points down when you get off the bus up there,” Joyner said. “We know what we’re getting ready to face. The kids just have to come out and know what they’re dealing with.

“But they know how to play with character in the face of adversity.”