SPORTS >> Easy victory gets tough
Justin McCleary tries to keep the ball away from a Little Rock Catholic defender during the Jacksonville Red Devils’ game with the Rockets at the Devils’ Den on Tuesday night.
Jacksonville controlled everything except the last four minutes of the third quarter.
But it was what Little Rock Catholic did in those few minutes Tuesday that threatened to make an early bid for a blowout into a competitive game.
However, the host Red Devils eventually prevailed 57-39 once the starting unit got back onto the floor and back to putting up points.
Catholic cut a 21-point lead to nine with 7:50 left to play. The Rockets posted a 10-0 run to end the third quarter and a pair of free throws closed the gap to 37-28 to start the fourth.
Then the Red Devils (4-7) began to get serious in their second non-conference game with the Rockets in as many nights.
“I was going deep in my bench,” Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner said. “I thought the kids looked at the score, because all of our games have been so close. For the first time, I think they looked up at the clock and they got a little relaxed. I could tell by their body language at halftime — and a couple of things they said.”
The Rockets hung around until the Red Devils’ Tee Brown made a basket and free throw with three minutes left to extend the lead to 51-37 and start an 11-0 run to close out the game.
The first half was a runaway for Jacksonville. The Red Devils got off to a fast start with a balanced attack in which all five starters scored.
Joyner used reserves for much of the second quarter, but Jacksonville still outscored Catholic 10-6 for a 30-16 lead at the break.
“That’s the first time they felt relaxed,” Joyner said. “And I think it showed. Catholic kept fighting. You know they’re going to scrap, and I tried to explain that to them, that they were going to scrap.
“That’s why we play them twice in a row like we do, because they’re patient, they’re going to execute — it’s going to be similar to our conference. And we got a little lax with the ball, lax on the boards and lax defensively.”
Offensively, the inside-outside connection of Brown, the junior post, and senior forward T.J. Green did most of the damage.
Green made four three-pointers and scored 16 points to lead the Red Devils, and Brown scored 15 points with eight rebounds and two blocked shots.
“Tee Brown is one of the few we have inside who will bang,” Joyner said. “We’re a real passive team — way too passive for the 6A. If we don’t get a lot more aggressive like Tee Brown around that bucket, then it’s going to be hard for us.
“Tee is a Godsend on the inside. He’s banging, and he’s doing everything we’ve asked him to do; we just have to get some people to give him some help.”
Green, who played at North Pulaski then transferred this year, found his rhythm from the outside when he made a three-pointer to give Jacksonville a 25-12 lead with 4:35 left in the second quarter. He hit one more three-pointer before halftime and added another in each of the final two quarters.
“We’ve been knocking heads and bumping; it’s like when you first get married you have to work out the kinks,” Joyner said of Green. “He still does some bonehead stuff, taking some bad shots once in a while, but he’s learning the system. He’s getting more comfortable with what he can and what he can’t do.”