SPORTS >>Devils come up short
Managing news editor
Missed lay-ups and a suddenly hot opponent did Jacksonville in and ended its season Friday night at Hall High School in Little Rock. The Red Devils fell 44-40 to Benton in the quarterfinals of the C lass 6A basketball state tournament.
Over half —24 — of Benton’s points came from beyond the three-point line, and 21 of those points from outside came in the second half.
Jacksonville got a little better from outside in the second half, too, but better than zero is not difficult. The Red Devils attempted five threes in the first half and made none. They attempted 10 in the second half and made two.
They did shoot much better from inside the arc in the second half, but several point-blank misses early in the game likely made the difference.
“Their big boy blocked some shots early in the game and he altered some others,” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said. “He got us a little hurried, we rushed some shots that should have been pretty easy. We made some adjustments and did some things to get him out of the middle, and that created some opportunities for us that we were able to capitalize on.
“We got some open looks and some offensive putbacks because we pulled him out of there in the second half.”
Benton never could establish an inside presence offensively, and it became clear by halftime that it would need to shoot better from outside to win the game. It did, hitting 7-of-10 three-point attempts in the second half.
Jacksonville held Benton superstar and leading scorer Brandon Jones scoreless in the first half, but he still finished with a game-high 15 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter. He was held to four shot attempts in the first half and missed two free throws. In the second half he made three straight three-pointers, a driving lay-up and calmly drained four consecutive free throws in the waning seconds to help hold off a Jacksonville comeback attempt.
“They did the things you have to do to win,” Joyner said. “They’re senior-laden and made big shots and made their free throws. We had some defensive breakdowns. We tried to run a matchup zone and had some guys that didn’t jump out on shooters like they were supposed to, and they drained them. My hat’s off to them.”
When Jones hit a three-pointer in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter, it was the sixth consecutive successful three-point attempts by the Panthers and it matched their biggest lead of the game at 31-25.
Jacksonville answered with a bucket by Cortrell Eskridge, but Joyner was hit with a technical foul for being out of the coach’s box during Benton’s trip back up the floor.
Kevin Wingerton hit both free throws, but Jacksonville got a defensive stop and scored the next five points to make it 33-32 with 4:10 left in the game.
The Red Devils got the ball back after a Benton timeout with a chance to take their first lead since the first quarter, but Demetrius Harris’ shot attempt with three minutes left was blocked by big Benton sophomore Ben Martin.
Jones then scored his only two-point bucket of the night, Jacksonville’s LaQuentin Miles missed a three and Jones drained a three to make it a six-point margin again in a matter of seconds.
With 1:37 left, Cortrell Eskridge scored and drew a foul from Martin. He hit the free throw to make it 38-35. Benton ran over a minute off the clock before Jacksonville sent Jones to the line with 36 seconds remaining.
He made both, but Cortrell Eskridge answered at the other end. Jacksonville then fouled Wingerton with 18 seconds to go, and he also made both ends of a one-and-one.
Terrell Eskridge then hit a long three-pointer to make it 42-40 with eight seconds to go, but Jones ended Jacksonville’s hopes by making Benton’s seventh and eighth straight foul shots to seal the win.
Both teams struggled mightily from the floor in the first half. The two teams were tied at seven apiece after one quarter, and
Benton took a 14-13 lead into intermission.
Benton went just 4-of-20 from the field in the first half and just 1-of-10 from three-point land. Jacksonville went 6-of-21 from the field and made no three-pointers.
Jacksonville, though, finished 15-of-27 from two-point range, including hitting 9-of-11 attempts from the paint in the second half. It just wasn’t enough to trade two points for three, especially as Benton also found its form from the free-throw line.
Wingerton added 12 points for Benton while Brandon Parker scored 11, including nine from three-point land.
Cortrell Eskridge scored 12 points to lead Jacksonville while Harris added 10.