Leader Blues

Saturday, February 16, 2008

SPORTS >>Devils solid in win over Bears

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville head coach Vic Joyner was more interested in talking about his team’s character than its court savvy after the Red Devils beat Sylvan Hills 63-48 on Tuesday night at the Devil’s Den to keep pace with front-runner Jonesboro.

“Terrell Eskridge hurt his ankle bad during that game and he came back and toughed it out,” Joyner said. “Antwan Lockhart has been playing with a sprained ankle and Cortrell Eskridge has been battling some health problems.

“But it’s a testament to our kids’ toughness that they’ve been soldiers and gutted it out. We’ve been talking to these kids, telling them it’s not about winning or losing. It’s about commitment and dedication. And winning comes from that.”

The Red Devils’ dedication paid off on Tuesday with one of their most solid performances in just about every phase. Jacksonville shot it well, took care of the basketball, dominated on the boards and shut down Sylvan Hills’ potentially explosive offense.

With the Bears (0-11 in the 6A-East) packing it in against Jacksonville’s taller and more physical front line, the Red Devils turned to super soph Deshone McClure, and junior LaQuinton Miles, both of whom delivered. McClure scored a game-high 18, while Miles added 13 points and seven rebounds.

Their play eventually opened up the inside for Lockhart, who scored 11 of his 15 points after intermission.

“They did some things defensively that made us play a different style,” Joyner said. “They were sagging to keep the lanes packed. I thought our kids followed the game plan. Deshone had one of his better performances. He scored 18 points and I asked him, ‘How many threes did you take?’ He took one. I want him to be more of a mid-range player.”

Despite limiting Sylvan Hills leading scorer Kai Randolph to only six points and despite finishing with a plus-15 rebounding advantage, the Devils had trouble shaking the Bears, who jumped out to a 10-4 lead, and trailed by only six at the break.

Jacksonville began to pull away late in the third period and early in the fourth when Demetrius Harris scored off a rebound and Terrell Eskridge scored on a pair of runners along the baseline to open up a 42-28 lead.

But the Bears got consecutive three-pointers from Randolph, P.J. Ross and Deyonte Davis, and a pair of free throws from Nick Zimmerman to narrow the gap to 46-40 midway through the final period.

Jacksonville then hit eight consecutive free throws — six straight by Lockhart — to push the lead back to 13 and end the suspense.

“Sylvan Hills was playing like a team that had nothing to lose,” Joyner said. “They really didn’t have any pressure on them. They may not have won a conference game, but they’ve played just about everybody within three or four points.”

Joyner said the Red Devils didn’t game plan to stop Randolph; he was more interested in his team’s continued progress on defense. Overall he was pleased, despite a few breakdowns, he said.

Jacksonville (12-11 overall and 9-2 in league play) once again got good balance on the boards, with Cortrell Eskridge and Miles grabbing seven each and Lockhart and Harris getting six more as the Red Devils out-rebounded the Bears 37-22.

Cortrell Eskridge also had an assist, a steal and two blocks.

McClure handed out three assists, while Miles and Harris added two apiece.

Sylvan Hills was led by Ross’ and Harold Ward’s 11 points, while Davis added 10.

Jacksonville showed plenty of patience offensively, taking only 36 shots, but making 20 of them, while knocking down 22-of-34 at the line. They took only four three-pointers, making one.

The Bears made only 16-of-50 shots overall, 5-of-19 from beyond the arc. They were 11-of-15 from the line.

The victory kept the Red Devils one game behind defending 6A champion Jonesboro. They had a big game last night with West Memphis, played after Leader deadlines. But Joyner continued to stress those things that go beyond winning games.

“We’re trying to get these kids to be productive citizens, to talk to them about their faith,” he said. “We’re trying to build a family program over here, to instill in these kids the things that will make the rest of their lives productive.

“It’s time for us all to pay a little more attention to these kids’ moral fiber, because things are getting worse out there. The kids are going to go out there and do the best they can on the court, and we hope people in Jacksonville will come out and support them.”