Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

SPORTS >> Red Devils unseat Beast of the East

Leader sports editor

You can give the officials credit for taking away one Little Rock Hall basket on Friday night. But you can chalk up the rest of the Warriors’ offensive futility to a fired-up Jacksonville defense.

The Red Devils snapped the defending 6A champion Warriors’ 28-game conference winning streak with a decisive 58-44 road win at Little Rock Hall.

“You don’t come into Hall and do that to them unless you have a lot of heart,” said Jacksonville head coach Victor Joyner. “The kids showed a lot of heart.”

The Red Devils, whose only league loss came to these same Warriors by three points back on Jan. 9, secured this one by limiting Baylor-bound point guard A.J. Walton to seven points and dead-eye perimeter shooter Marland Smith to just six. They shut down the inside by blocking eight shots.

“Never in a million years,” said Joyner when asked if he thought his team could limit the dynamic Warrior duo to 13 points. “Those are two helluva players. I thought we did a great job of stopping their penetration and that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to make them jump shooters.

“I thought the kids did a great job of following the game plan and keeping them out of the paint.”

It was the second huge win for the Red Devils (14-3, 6-1) in three days. On Tuesday night, they handled West Memphis at home.

“I don’t know about Jacksonville, but for Victor Joyner, there hasn’t been a better week of basketball,” said Joyner. “But you got to turn around and get ready for Al Flannigan and Parkview (last night).”

Hall (20-2, 7-1) made only 17 of 53 shots and connected on 5 of 21 threes. The Devils blocked eight shots — three each by Demetrius Harris and Cortrell Eskridge. On the other end, Jacksonville showed much better patience than the Warriors and made 21 of 40 shots.

It was Walton’s second-half penetration and repeated trips to the free-throw line that put Hall over the top at Jacksonville last month. On Friday night, Joyner, who was shorthanded without back-up point guard Stan Appleby, opted to play zone most of the way. In Jacksonville, Walton wore down the Red Devils’ man defense with his crossover dribbles and penetration.

“We were really fearful of Marland hitting threes and we got tired last time,” Joyner said. “With Stan sick, we had to flex our rotation. We had to play zone to rest our kids.”

In the absence of Appleby, little-used Cailin Davis stepped up to the spotlight and delivered. Davis scored four points, dished out two assists and had three steals in limited action.

“Cailin is the one that stepped up,” Joyner said. “I thought he made the difference down the stretch. He was able to give our guys some rest. He made a couple of key baskets and some nice passes.”

Laquinton Miles and Deshone McClure took it to the Warriors in the first half, totaling 18 Jacksonville points to give the Red Devils a 29-26 lead at intermission. The game got off to a bizarre beginning when Smith made a basket on a breakaway and Eskridge was called for an intentional foul. None of the three officials, however, saw Smith’s basket go in and did not award the Warriors with the points.

The Warriors fired up hurried three-pointers throughout the first half, making only 4 of 13. It would get worse in the second half when they made only 1 of 8.

Jacksonville, which relies on its depth and balance to wear down teams in the second half, began to assert itself late in the third quarter. After the Warriors had narrowed the lead to two on a rebound basket with 3:07 left in the period, Antwan Lockhart scored on a reverse, and three consecutive McClure assists – one for a rousing Antonio Roy fast break jam – allowed the Red Devils to carry a 44-37 lead into the final period.

McClure delivered inside to Harris for a bucket, then added a pull-up 14-footer as Jacksonville’s lead grew to 48-37 two minutes into the final quarter. McClure had 13 points, six rebounds and six assists.

Two consecutive baskets by Davis, the second off a steal, opened the lead to 13 at the 4:48 mark. The Warriors’ final push came on a 5-0 run that whittled the lead to five, but McClure scored on a runner with 2:50 left and the Warriors never scored again.

It was another remarkably balanced attack by the Red Devils, who had seven players score four or more points, led by Miles’ 15 points, seven boards and three steals. In addition to McClure’s 13, Harris added eight points and eight boards and Lockhart added eight as well. Roy scored six points, while Eskridge added four points and six rebounds.

Jacksonville dominated the glass, especially in the second half, to finish with a 38-28 advantage. And, while free-throw shooting cost them in the two teams’ first meeting, the Red Devils knocked down 14 of 19 on Friday.

It was Hall’s first conference loss since Jan. 26, 2007 at El Dorado.

“We knew this was coming,” said Hall head coach George Cierks. “I think (Jacksonville) played harder and wanted it more than we did. They got on the glass and took it away from us. They’re a good basketball team. They’ll be hard for anybody to beat if they keep up that intensity.”