Leader Blues

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

SPORTS>> Charity stripe woes sink Red Devils

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils can take a glass-half-empty or a glass-half-full approach to their 58-55 loss to Little Rock Hall on Friday night in front of a jam-packed Devil’s Den.

They can look at it like they gave away their 6A-East Conference opener against the defending 6A champion Warriors by missing 17 free throws and turning over the ball 17 times. Or they can look at it as a game they nearly pulled out despite all that.

“You’re 18 out of (35) with 17 turnovers and you lose by three?” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said. “I mean, come on, man. We just handed one to them.”

Had it not been for the second-half performance by Baylor-bound guard A.J. Walton, Jacksonville likely would have pulled this one out even with all those missed free throws and miscues. Walton took over the game after intermission, using his crossover dribble to penetrate the lane time and again on his way to 23 points — 18 in the second half.

Walton’s drives earned him 12 second-half free throws and he cashed in eight of those, just enough for the Warriors (2-0 in league play) to improve to 15-1 while Jacksonville dropped to 8-3 (1-1).

“A.J. got more aggressive down the stretch as (defender Laquinton Miles) got a little tired in the second half,” Joyner said. “And our rotation got a little slower. In the first half, we were there to cut him off.”

Hall began to take over a closely contested game — the teams were tied at the half and at the end of three periods — when it scored the first eight points of the final period to take a 47-39 lead.

Deshone McClure hit a three to keep the Devils close, but Hall extended the lead to eight again midway through the final period. At that point, Jacksonville had missed seven consecutive free throws.

Antonio Roy scored inside, Antwan Lockhart scored off a spin move and Demetrius Harris took a feed down low from Miles for an easy bucket as the Red Devils closed the gap to 51-48.

Lockhart got a putback with 1:57 and Harris narrowed the margin to 54-52 with a pair of free throws at the 1:14 mark. The Red Devils got the break they were looking for when Hall missed twice in close, but Miles missed a fast-break lay-up with 45 seconds remaining.

David Rivers hit a pair of free throws with 33 seconds to extend the Hall lead to 56-52. Hall gave Jacksonville one final chance when, ahead 57-53, it missed a lay-up with 14 seconds left. Lockhart was fouled on the other end and made both free throws to cut the lead to two with 5.1 seconds left.

The Warriors made 1 of 2 free throws with four seconds remaining, but McClure could only get off an off-balance, mid-court shot to try to tie it as Hall prevailed.

Jacksonville got another dominant game out of Harris, who is playing only his second season of organized basketball. The 6-5 forward led the Red Devils with 14 points and 12 rebounds and blocked a pair of shots. He helped Jacksonville to a 37-29 rebounding advantage.

But Harris was the only Red Devil to reach double figures as Jacksonville struggled to a 1-of-10 night from behind the arc, 18 of 43 overall. Hall finished the game 16 of 37 from the field (3 of 11 from three) and 23 of 33 from the line.

Hall raced to a 5-0 lead, but McClure scored on an off-balance scoop in the lane, Miles got a steal and jam, and Cortrell Eskridge scored on a fast break after a McClure steal and Jacksonville led 6-5. Neither team led by more than four points until the fourth quarter. Seven consecutive points by Walton had Hall in front 39-35 late in the third, but Darius Morant scored off a fast break and Harris got a rebound basket as the teams entered the final period knotted at 39.

McClure, Lockhart and Miles each had eight points, while Eskridge scored seven points and grabbed seven rebounds. McClure had three steals and Stan Appleby dished out three assists.

“We’ve got to make better decisions down the stretch,” said Joyner. “That’s what Hall does is put pressure on your guards. Our post men were stepping up early and we were hitting the post. Then we started over-dribbling. You got guys driving down the lane and doing crossovers and trying to get the ‘and-one’ instead off passing the ball off.

“Monday, that’s going to stop. We’re that close, but we just didn’t play smart.”