Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

SPORTS>>Red Devils take third

Leader sportswriter

The cross-town rivalry between Jacksonville and North Pulaski knows no boundaries.

That rivalry lived up to its reputation once again, as it spilled into the third-place game of the John Stanton/Wampus Cat Invitational basketball tournament on Saturday afternoon in Conway.

The Falcons (7-2) took the first meeting between the clubs two weeks earlier, but the Red Devils (4-2) evened the score Saturday with a 57-51 win.

Jacksonville controlled the tempo most of the way, as the Devils put their trademark flash-and-dash aside, opting instead for steady, fundamental play that allowed them to build a 23-13 lead at the half, and hold off a furious charge by DuQuan Bryant and the Falcons in the final period.

“It don’t matter what the records are, what classifications, it’s going to be a dogfight every time we play them,” said Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner. “We gave one away last night, and it hurt them. (North Pulaski) took one on the chin last night, too, so we both had motivation to come out and play each other. And that’s how it always is. It’s a classic, heavyweight fight.”

Jacksonville was coming off a heartbreaking one-point loss to Forrest City on Friday that denied it a trip to the tourney finals, while the Falcons took their first loss of the year to host Conway 85-69.

Stanley Appleby was the only leading scorer for Jacksonville who did not finish in double digits, but all of his eight points came when the Red Devilsneeded them most, with a resurgent Falcons team breathing down their necks late in the game.

Appleby hit three-pointers at the 6:02 mark and 4:59 mark of the fourth quarter that pushed the lead back to more than 10 points after baskets by the Falcons’ Bryant and Carlos Donley.

“We’re trying to slow down, and to get them to play the way we want them to play,” Joyner said. “And that’s why we had to put a few people on the bench. They’re going to start listening to us, that’s the bottom line.”

Appleby’s strong finish was set up by a solid performance throughout the game by forward Cortell Eskridge, who came up big on both the scoreboard and the glass. Eskridge finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, while senior post Antwan Lockhart had 11 points and four rebounds, along with two steals and a block.

“Eskridge stepped up like a man tonight,” Joyner said. “All of them did. They had heartbreak last night. I looked into their eyes, and they were hurt. I thought they showed a lot of resolve. They came out here tonight and battled on the boards. Eskridge stepped up, Lockhart stepped up. LaQuinton Miles has been in my doghouse a little bit, but he stepped up. Demetris stepped up, and little Stan stepped up and ran that point. That’s what we’ve got to have is a point guard, and Stan Appleby got that job tonight.

Joyner was pleased with both Appleby’s ball handling and clutch shooting.

“He’s finally getting his timing right from football,” he said. “He’s getting into his shooting rhythm and his timing. He’s getting his wind with his lung capacity back. He’s coming on.”

Eskridge, Lockhart and Apple-by’s scores all came at critical times for Jacksonville, but it was the quiet work of Demetris Harris that led to his team-high 12 points. Harris proved clutch in the final seconds with a pair of free throws that kept the Red Devils on top 56-49. He finished 6 of 7 at the foul line.

The Falcons were able to close the gap to four in the final 1:27 of the third quarter. A putback basket by Brian Coulson made it 29-25 before the Red Devils got back-to-back threes. Eskridge put up the first trey, and DeShone McClure beat the buzzer with a dazzling 28-footer for his only field goal of the night to put the Devils up 35-25.

Bryant got busy for the Falcons in the final period, scoring eight of his 13 points in that time. Junior point guard Aaron Cooper also found his way to the basket with eight of his own during that time, including a pair of three pointers. Cooper went on to lead all scorers with 16 points, while Bryant led the Falcons in rebounding with six boards.

The final minute played out at the charity stripe, with the Red Devils hitting 7 of 10 free throws in the final minute.

Joe Agee rounded out high scorers for North Pulaski with 10 points, including a pair of three-point baskets.