Leader Blues

Saturday, November 22, 2008

SPORTS>>Red Devils cruise past Lions in season opener

Leader sportswriter

The Jacksonville Red Devils opened their season with an impressive and tension-filled 63-54 win over Little Rock McClellan on Tuesday night at the Devils Den.

The Devils were in complete control until emotions began to run high in the third quarter. In that time, Little Rock McClellan cut a 39-24 halftime Jacksonville lead to 44-39, but the Devils were able to pull away late for the win.

The Lions bench appeared to be frustrated by what they saw as too-aggressive play by the Red Devils and that led to more aggressive play by McClellan. That eventually led to a brush between Jacksonville post Antwan Lockhart and the Lions’ big man.

“It was one of those games that had a playoff atmosphere,” Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner said. “It’s a good thing to get challenged that early. We didn’t execute down the stretch like I wanted them to.”

The scuffle was broken up before any real damage was done and order was restored. The Devils didn’t let the tension distract them from their overall game plan, as Deshone McClure clicked off seven fourth-quarter points to help Jacksonville pull away late.

Joyner was pleased to see the maturity on the court when things got tense.

“They got frustrated – they got it down to eight and they couldn’t get over that hump,” Joyner said. “They were cross-talking, and I sent my captain over there to tell the officials. I knew it was getting ready to blow up. But we regrouped, and one of our guys even said let’s go beat them with our play and that’s what we did.”

The frustration for McClellan started early. McClure proved to be a big mismatch for the Lions’ smaller guards right from the start, and attempts at sealing off the standout with double coverage left teammate Laquinton Miles without a defender in sight.

He took advantage of that gift first at the 2:31 mark of the first quarter with a three-point basket that put Jacksonville up 15-9, and he struck from the far side of the arc again with 6:31 left in the half to extend the lead to 24-15.

Cortell Eskridge and Lockhart split duties on the low block. Eskridge outrebounded McClellan on both sides, and Lockhart pounded it inside for nine points in the first half. The Lions measured up to Jacksonville in height, but lacked the overall bulk and strength to contain the duo. That, combined with having virtually no answer for McClure’s speed, led to 11 trips to the foul line for the Red Devils in the first half alone.

Lockhart put up five points early on in the second quarter, and Miles added seven more in the final 1:30 of the half to give the Red Devils a 39-24 lead at the half.

Scoring was at a minimum for Jacksonville in the third quarter. The Lions took advantage with a 13-5 run during the period to make it a five-point Jacksonville lead at 44-39 heading into the final eight minutes.

Miles led the Red Devils with 24 points. McClure added 17 for Jacksonville. The Red Devils will host North Pulaski on Tuesday.