SPORTS >> Early, late, McClure answers the call
HOT SPRINGS — Deshone McClure may not have had a career night, scoring-wise, but all 17 of his points came at critical times for Jacksonville, from a pair of three-pointers to start the game to his winning free throws at the end. He was 5 of 6 from the floor and 3 of 4 on three-point attempts. He was also 4 of 7 at the foul line, including the two that mattered most on his way to earning game MVP. Post Antwan Lockhart was the only Red Devil starter to take fewer shots from the field than McClure, going 3 of 3.
TURNING A BLIND EYE
Cortrell Eskridge took a poke in the eye while fighting for a loose ball at the end of the first quarter, but returned to the game in the second half after receiving treatment from Jacksonville trainer Jason Cates. Eskridge finished with only one field goal, but came away with a pair of critical offensive rebounds, and his efforts on defense helped keep Hall’s dynamic slasher guard A.J. Walton out of the paint. Walton made all of his points either from behind the three-point line or at the foul line.
THE UNSTOPPABLE MR. WALTON
The question coming into the game was how well the Baylor-bound Walton would fare after suffering a late-season ankle injury. He was said to be at about 70 percent, but his game-high 24 points, including four three-point baskets and a 12-of-16 performance at the foul line provided a fitting swan song for arguably the state’s most gifted high-school player.
His two free throws in the final 10 seconds put the Warriors on top 62-61, and would have clinched it had McClure not made his way to the line at the end. Walton had nine of Hall’s 11 points over the final two minutes of the game.
“What about that A.J. Walton?” said Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner. “The kid’s got a big heart. He showed why he’s the Division I player. There’s no quit in him, and he almost carried that team single-handedly to a state title, even with a bum ankle.”
Walton exited the arena in defiant fashion, exchanging words with an overzealous Jacksonville fan who heckled him as he walked off the court.
“You could never begin to fill my shoes!” Walton shouted back at the fan.
SHOOTING GOOD IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Jacksonville guard Stan Appleby scored all seven of his points over a 56-second span early in the fourth quarter, ending his run with a three-point basket that gave the Red Devils a 52-39 lead, their biggest of the game. His only other shot attempt was a long-distance heave at the first-quarter buzzer that missed the mark. Little brother Raheem hit a three-point basket with 1:17 left in the first half for his only points of the game.
DOING IT ‘FOR MY TEAMMATES’
Just after missing the second of three free throws with 1.2 seconds on the clock and the game tied at 62, a calm seemed to come over McClure, who glanced over at the Red Devil bench and determinedly shook his head while giving his chest two quick bumps with his fist.
“I had to do it for my teammates – I had to,” said McClure. “After I missed that one I was thinking that I couldn’t miss another one or we’re going into overtime. I knew if we went into overtime that it was going to be a battle, so I had to hit it.”
A KINDER, GENTLER VIC JOYNER
He’s developed a reputation for combativeness over the years, but Devils coach Victor Joyner went through the entire 2008-09 season without a single technical-foul call.
The Red Devils turned it over 24 times, but not one time was there a stomped foot or a hoarse scream across the arena like in big games of season’s past.
He rarely questioned a call by an official.
His first words of the post-game press conference gave a pretty strong indicator as to the noticeable change in personality.
“I give honor to my God,” said Joyner. “My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, first of all.”
He even came close to giving officials Huey Pugh, Ron Bellomy and Ernie Murry a compliment following the game.
“I thought they did a decent job,” said Joyner. “One or two calls here or there, but, you know, that’s me – I’m not going to say anything.”
A TERRIFIC END TO A BIZARRE WEEKEND
There were isolated moments of excitement, but mostly struggling performances throughout the 2009 state finals, including disappointing floppers between GCT-North Pulaski and Fayetteville-Rogers earlier on Saturday. But that all changed when the Red Devils and Warriors took to the court for the final championship game.
The two teams attacked the basket early, and Jacksonville shot it well out of the gate. McClure and Hall’s Marland Smith each had a pair of threes under their belt after the first eight minutes.
The score at the end of the first quarter was 15-14 Hall — a score that surpassed the halftime scores of several earlier games, including the GCT-North Pulaski contest.
THEY CALLED IT
McClure’s drive down court in the final seconds that led to the decisive foul shots nearly ended in disaster at the other end when he almost lost control of the ball near midcourt as he slashed through the Warrior press.
“Coach Joyner told me to get the ball and go and don’t stop,” said McClure. “So I got the ball and went and didn’t stop. I almost lost it. I was about to pass it, but he told me to go and don’t stop. So if we were going to lose, we were going to lose because of me.”
When asked if he got fouled at the end, McClure smiled and replied, “They called it.”
FRIDAY SHOOT-AROUND PAYS DIVIDENDS
The Red Devils out-shot Hall 50 per cent to 34 percent, going 24 of 48 from the floor. They also hit 5 of 10 three-point attempts.
The deep backdrop behind the goals of the sizeable Summit Arena played tricks on some of the state’s sharpest shooters over the three-day championship weekend, but a mid-afternoon shoot-around at the Lakeside High gymnasium gave Joyner an idea, and it seemed to pay off.
“We had a shoot-around at Lakeside after the North Pulaski game,” said Joyner. “I want to thank their coach. They had some overhanging goals that hung off on the side with no backdrop, kind of like these goals.
“And when I saw that, I made everyone shoot from the side goals. And the depth-perception was the same. I think telling them to keep their eye on the rim and lining up their shot with the rim helped a lot.
“When Deshone started shooting over there, he wasn’t doing too good at first. He kept shooting, and he got his rhythm. I think that made all the difference, that hour-and-a-half shoot-around that we had.”