SPORTS >> Red Devils muscle up to blow by Hurricane
By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor
It wasn’t just a victory for Jacksonville and coach Vic Joyner on Tuesday night.
It was an answer to a prayer.
Defending 6A state champion Jacksonville hustled and harassed its way to a 59-44, 6A-East Conference victory over the Jonesboro Hurricane at the Devils Den.
After seeing Jonesboro on film, Joyner jokingly said the key to victory might be divine intervention.
“Praying,” Joyner said of his game plan. “Praying to my God. Because we saw them; I saw them on tape and they were pretty long. It was going to be a battle.”
But Jacksonville helped itself with defense, speed and some patience on offense Tuesday.
Jacksonville outscored Jonesboro 17-8 in the third quarter, then kept Jonesboro at bay with the same defensive pressure that forced turnovers all night. For Joyner, who had criticized his team’s heart at times earlier this year, the intensity was good to see.
“We’ve got to force tempo, we’ve got to push that ball,” Joyner said. “We wanted to make their big men run the floor. So we wanted to push it out, get out in front of them and make them burn a little energy running the floor.”
It was a tough return to the central Arkansas area for Jonesboro coach Wes Swift, who was at nearby Lonoke the previous eight years, winning a state title and finishing as runner-up during almost perennial visits to the 4A state tournament.
“When they play here at home they’re going to try to pressure you, they’re going to turn you over, they’re so aggressive offensively,” Swift said of Jacksonville. “They have good shooters combined with guys that can really handle it and get it into the paint.”
Jonesboro’s early, 4-0 lead would be its only one. Jacksonville (6-9, 2-2), went ahead to stay when Tirrell Brown scored off a Justin McCleary assist to make it 7-5, and the Red Devils took an 18-9 lead at the end of the first quarter when James Aikens and Jamison Williams made consecutive three-pointers wrapped around a Jonesboro turnover.
Jonesboro, (8-9, 1-3) managed to stay within 29-20 at halftime, but the third quarter proved decisive as the Hurricane committed seven turnovers and Jacksonville controlled the rebounding to limit second-chance points.
Jonesboro got within 32-25 when Colby Inboden converted a three-point play with 5:35 left. But, beginning with a three-point play by Deshone McClure, the Red Devils outscored the Hurricane 14-3 the rest of the quarter.
“I think the effort is coming from the overall team spirit,” Joyner said of his roster, whose tallest player is McClure, 6-3. “They know they’ve got to come out being small and scrappy. People are still killing us on the boards and eventually they’re going to kill us but they’re battling. They’re jumping, they’re boxing out.”
Jacksonville led by 20 three times, the last when McCleary went the length of the floor and pulled up for a one-handed jumper to make it 52-32 with just over four minutes left.
Jonesboro got within 52-41 with 2:01 left, but could get no closer.
“We had a plan coming in tonight and we just didn’t execute it and that’s my fault,” Swift said. “I didn’t have our guys ready to play. That’s as unfocused of a game defensively as what we’ve played in a while and I apologize for that.”
Swift said he was unhappy with a persistent problem area — guard play — especially against Jacksonville’s pressure.
“I’m tired of saying they’re inexperienced; we’re in game no. 17 now,” Swift said. “That’s just an excuse. We just didn’t play well tonight at all.”
McClure, a senior, led Jacksonville with 16 points and Raheem Appleby scored 12. Terrance Walker led Jonesboro with 12 points.
Jacksonville moved past Jonesboro to sixth in the 6A-East.
“It’s brutal, it’s brutal man, but what a wonderful conference,” Joyner said. “The kids have got to be up every day.”