Leader Blues

Saturday, March 01, 2008

SPORTS >>Devils in a rout

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Even after Jacksonville followed up its impressive win over defending champion Jonesboro last Friday with a nearly flawless performance in the opening round of the 6A state tournament on Thursday, head coach Vic Joyner wasn’t ready to say whether or not his team was peaking at the right time.

“You can hope so,” Joyner said after the Red Devils turned a remarkably balanced performance into a 73-44 romp over Texarkana in the state quarterfinals at Little Rock Hall on Thursday. “It’s not in my hands, it’s in God’s hands. These kids just have to get out and play hard and if they win, they win. We just want them to go out there and have fun playing basketball and representing the city of Jacksonville.”

It had to be plenty of fun on Thursday when the Razorbacks, the six seed out of the 6A South, offered little resistance on the defensive end, while making it easy on the Jacksonville defense by firing up quick, perimeter shots most of the afternoon.

The Red Devils made 9-of-10 shots in the third quarter to put away any lingering doubt by expanding a 15-point halftime lead into a 58-32 margin after three. Jacksonville found its way inside against the Razorback 3-2 zone time and again for easy buckets on the blocks, led by LaQuinton Miles’ 14 points. Eight players scored five or more points for the Red Devils.

“We needed a game like that, because we’re going to be playing a very good team that’s rested,” Joyner said of last night’s quarterfinal matchup with Benton in a game played after Leader deadlines. “It was good to be able to keep those guys on the bench and not have them burn a whole lot of energy.”

Even on the court, the Red Devils were never forced to expend much energy as the Razorbacks allowed Jacksonville to have its way on the offensive end from the midway point of the first quarter on. Texarkana’s only highlight — other than senior James Parker’s 24-point performance— was a 7-0 run that gave them their only lead of the game at 7-5 at the 3:35 mark of the first quarter.

That sparked a 14-0 Jackson-ville run, capped off by three-pointers from reserves Darius Morant and Stan Appleby that put the Red Devils comfortably ahead 19-7 after one.

Parker’s reverse lay-up narrowed the gap to single digits briefly before the Red Devils closed out the half with an 8-2 run to push the lead to 15 at halftime. Miles closed out that run with a fast break lay-up off a feed from Terrell Eskridge, followed by an end-to-end drive for a scoop bucket.

Eskridge didn’t score in the game, but dished out five of Jacksonville’s 20 assists. Antonio Roy, Miles and Deshone McClure each handed out three assists as well.

“We’ve been that way all year,” Joyner said of his team’s unselfish play. “Nobody’s out there worrying about points. They get out there and play together. That’s kind of based on all that stuff we went through earlier in the year [when Jacksonville lost nine of its first 12 games].

“We had a lock-in and had them stay all night together. They bonded together, and all those things have paid off.”

In addition to torrid shooting (28-of-52, 4-of-9 from three) and the unselfish play, Jacksonville dominated on the boards, out-rebounding the Razorbacks, 44-24. Demetrius Harris turned in yet another sterling rebounding performance, grabbing nine boards to go along with his eight points. Cortrell Eskridge added seven boards, and Lockhart had six.

“They couldn’t box us out in the 3-2 zone,” Joyner said. “That zone is really designed to stop guards. And one of our strengths is inside. So [Texarkana] kind of did what we needed them to do.”

Lockhart had 10 points, while McClure and Cortrell Eskridge added nine, Harris and Morant eight, Roy six and Appleby five.

The Red Devil defense limited Texarkana to 18-of-52 shooting, including 4-of-16 from beyond the arc.

“That first one’s the hardest one,” Joyner said of the opening round games at the state tournament. “Especially when you’ve only got one kid back that has any kind of experience.

“They’ve been pretty laid back. We haven’t overly emphasized anything in practice; the routine has stayed the same. They weren’t overly excited. They were just ready to play.”