Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

SPORTS >> Every Devil had a hand in bringing home the crown

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Jacksonville’s 13-point lead was suddenly just a precarious five after three-pointers by Marland Smith and A.J. Walton and four straight points by David Rivers.

Two minutes and 40 seconds remained in the 6A state championship and all the momentum had shifted to Little Rock Hall.

That’s when Cortrell Eskridge made an aggressive move from the top of the key and delivered a crisp bounce pass to Demetrius Harris for a lay-up and a seven-point lead.

One play among many in a game in which one play – at any point along the way – could have made the difference between heartache and jubilation. Eskridge’s numbers – 1 of 6 shooting, three rebounds – might get lost among all the others, but he had two assists in the game and that second one to Harris was as big as any play in the game, temporarily, at least, squelching Hall’s gathering momentum.

When people over the course of time gaze upon the championship banner that will forever festoon the Devils’ Den at Jacksonville High, they’ll quite naturally think of Deshone McClure’s MVP performance, his three three-pointers, his 5-of-6 shooting and, most dramatically, his game-winning free throws with 1.2 seconds remaining when Jacksonville trailed by one.

But his drive from one end of the court to the other with 7.8 seconds left, the foul he drew, the free throws he made, was also just one play among many. In a one-point win, every play counts. And everybody contributed in his own big or small way on Saturday night.

Darrius Morant missed his only shot in the game. But in just five minutes of action, Morant delivered two big assists. His defensive rebound and long pass to Antwan Lockhart led to a crowd-rousing jam late in the third period.

Just a minute and six seconds later, he dished inside to Harris for a lay-up that put the Red Devils up nine.

Antonio Roy picked up seven rebounds — three offensive — in just 14 minutes of action, helping account for the Red Devils’ 11 second-chance points in the contest. He also had one of their three blocks.

And let’s not forget the Appleby brothers — Raheem and Stanley. Raheem hit a three late in the first half – a three that had to be counted as bonus points, given his limited action during the regular season. Brother Stanley scored seven points over the course of 56 seconds in the early critical stages of the final period. He hit a floater in the lane, a driving lay-up and a three-pointer that gave the Red Devils their biggest lead of the game at 52-39.

Antwan Lockhart took only three shots and made them all. His rebound basket to open the second half got the Red Devils off on the right foot. His thunderous dunk with 2:10 left in the third period not only opened up a nine-point lead, but electrified the Red Devil faithful. He also had three rebounds and a block.

Harris’ performance needs no illumination. Twenty points, 10 rebounds — five offensive — a blocked shot and an assist speaks for itself. This from a football star who has played only two years of organized basketball. Harris’ development into an outstanding offensive player, rebounder and defender is a big reason for the Red Devils’ improvement from a 14-14 quarterfinal team a year ago into a 24-3 state champion this season.

Finally, don’t overlook LaQuentin Miles’ performance on Saturday. Don’t let the 1-of-8 shooting and the seven turnovers fool you. Miles, who offset those numbers with three steals, two assists and 10 boards, was put in the unenviable position of running the point most of the season in an attempt to provide the one missing part on this otherwise complete team.

“Our kids overcame a big handicap,” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said. “This team hasn’t had a true point guard all year. LaQuentin sacrificed a lot of offense running the point and maybe even an MVP and that’s an unselfish kid right there.

“Because if LaQuentin was a two guard, he’d be averaging 25-30 points a game for us, easy. And that’s what I’m saying. These kids played their roles for each other and they won this thing collectively as a group.”

Remember that when you look at that banner.