SPORTS >> Red Devils take first step
Special to The Leader
WEST MEMPHIS – One of the hot topics among the media at the Class 6A state tournament Thursday afternoon was the fact there hadn’t been any upsets thus far. Then the No. 1-ranked Jacksonville boys took the floor in the first half and it was beginning to look like the Red Devils would be the first victim.
After allowing Benton to go on a 12-1 run to close out the first half and take a 30-27 lead at intermission, the Red Devils outscored Benton 37-13 in the final 16 minutes for a 64-43 victory in a quarterfinal game at Lehr Arena. Jacksonville (21-3) takes on West Memphis in the next semi-final game.
“I think our guys were mad at halftime,” said Jacksonville head coach Victor Joyner. “Benton is the kind of team that you’ve got to make sure on defense where all their shooters are on the floor, and we weren’t doing that in the first half.”
After Benton opened the second half with a field goal and a three-pointer, Jacksonville went to work. A Deshone McClure three-pointer kick-started the rally and it was quickly followed by a pair of one-handed dunks by high-flying LaQuentin Miles. Jacksonville’s third-quarter damage ended when Demetrius Harris, the game’s high scorer with 20 points, stuck back a missed shot and the Red Devils led 46-38 at the end of three quarters.
“We talked at halftime about hitting the boards a lot harder in the second half and that’s what our big guys started doing a lot better,” Joyner added.
Getting the ball inside to Harris was also a huge difference in the final two quarters. Harris scored 15 of his points in the second half and he towered over the smaller Panthers (17-9), who start four guards and had no starter taller than 6-2.
As if the third-quarter blitz wasn’t enough, the Red Devils began the fourth quarter on the same note. Harris started a 19-3 run that saw Jacksonville turn the eight-point bulge into a 61-40 lead with only 54 seconds left in the contest.
It looked as if Jacksonville would dominate from the get-go as Miles scored the first five points of a 10-0 run that put the Red Devils up 15-8 in the first quarter. Jacksonville led 18-12 after one stanza.
However, that’s when Benton’s shooters came to life as Eddie Polland, Matt Larkan and Landon Parker all hit threes during the end of the half run that gave Benton the lead.
Parker finished with a team-high 13 points while Jeff Robinson added 11. However, all but two of those combined 24 points came in the first half.
Miles added 14 points for Jacksonville while McClure chipped in 13.
Joyner expressed some concern over playing West Memphis for a third time this season and second at its brand new arena.
“Even though this is the first year they’ve played here it’s still a big home-court advantage,” he said. “Their kids get to sleep in their own beds and eat momma’s cooking. I’m sure (West Memphis coach Larry) Bray will have his kids fired up to play us because I’m sure they felt like they let one get away from them the last time we played them here.”
In that game, West Memphis’ Tarvin Gaines missed the front end of a one-and-one with 13.2 seconds to play with his team leading by one. The Red Devils won it on an off-balanced 13-footer by Miles with 1.7 seconds to play.
West Memphis (20-8) earned the right to play Jacksonville with a 58-53 victory Thursday over Little Rock Fair. In that one, Gaines hit a crucial free throw with six seconds to play to help seal the victory.
On the other side of the 6A state tournament bracket on Thursday, Pine Bluff defeated Marion 68-59, and advanced to take on defending 6A state champions Little Rock Hall.
Watson Chapel, which recieved a first-round bye, took on Little Rock Parkview. The Patriots advanced through the first round with a 59-39 win over El Dorado on Wednesday.