Keith Charleston goes for the block against Olive Branch, Miss. (Photo by Chad Matchett)
Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner has said time and again before the season began that he wanted to see more offensive production out of point guard Justin McCleary.
McCleary showed off his scoring skills in a 75-61 win over Olive Branch, Miss at the Battle of the Border at Little Rock Hall Saturday afternoon.
McCleary led Jacksonville with 30 points while handing out four assists.
“I want Justin to score this year,” said Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner. “He’s sacrificed his offense the last three years passing the ball to everyone else and it is time to showcase what he can do. A lot of people don’t think he is a Division I talent because they haven’t seen him score. They need to know he’s a DI guy.”
Baskets by McCleary and Keith Charleston helped Jacksonville jump out to a 9-3 lead early in the first quarter. Jacksonville led by as many as 22 points in the first half, before five quick points by Olive Branch’s Sam Craft pulled the halftime score to 39-22.
McCleary had a big game and a fairly easy win, but Craft did manage to win the scoring duel. Craft made six three-pointers and was 9 of 10 from the line to lead all scorers with 37 points.
“The scouting report said that he would pretty much score all of their points,” Joyner said. “But when Jordan scored 60 or 70 the Bulls would lose. Its hard for one guy to beat a whole team.”
A trio of threes by Craft did help Olive Branch cut the lead down to single digits at 50-42 with under a minute left to play in the third quarter. McCleary answered with a bucket and pair of free throws in the final 30 seconds to give the Red Devils a double-figure lead they would keep the rest of the way.
The Red Devils did give Joyner some things to work them on in practice. Jacksonville had 23 fouls compared to 14 for Olive Branch and looked a little out of control at times.
“We’ve got to learn not to reach in on the press and get those cheap fouls,” Joyner said. “Part of that is learning to play under these lights in games like these. We really only have a couple players who have played minutes in front of crowds like this. Playing a big time opponent in front of full stands is something new to a lot of these guys.”
Charleston and Aaron Smith were the other two Red Devils to score in double figures. Charleston had 11 points, while Smith hit a pair of threes on his way to 10 points. Sergio Berkley scored six points, while Khaleel Hart, Brandon Brockman and Kanaan Jackson each had four points.