Jacksonville’s Aaron Smith in action against Little Rock McClellan last week.
The Jacksonville Red Devils found themselves in a battle for first place Friday night, and came out on top with a 42-41 win over Little Rock McClellan.
Each team went into the game 9-1 in the 5A-Central.
Jacksonville didn’t play the prettiest game of the season, but they did just enough to escape McClellan High School in sole possession of first place.
The Red Devils began the fourth quarter with a 35-31 lead, but lost that lead after four turnovers in the opening 90 seconds of the quarter.
Jacksonville got a needed turnover from the Lions while trailing 41-40. Justin McCleary got a steal in the lane, then made a long pass to Keith Charleston for what turned out to the game-winning bucket with :14.2 left to play.
“It was a flat out battle, but it was ugly,” said Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner. “It was so ugly and the way we played, we didn’t deserve to win. But those kids fought so hard and just willed a win. That made me so happy.”
Jacksonville’s Sergio Berkley made his only field goal of the night at 4:29 in the fourth, and then gave the Devils the lead a minute later with a pair of free throws. Berkley’s free throw with :32.8 remaining cut the Lions’ lead to 41-40.
That lead didn’t last long as McClellan’s Tronsayne Ellis grabbed a pair of steals underneath his own basket, one turning around for a layup and another dishing off to Tyrin Hollis to take a 41-39 lead with 1:15 left to play.
Before those two steals, most of Jacksonville’s turnovers had come closer to their basket.
“We really didn’t turn it over much against their press,” Joyner said. “We’d beat that, then mess up and give it to them out of our half court offense. That’s just from not being patient and not taking care of the ball.”
Jacksonville did beat out McClellan on the boards, helping to offset the turnovers. The Red Devils opened their largest lead midway through the third quarter when a three-pointer by Aaron Smith sparked a quick 7-0 run that gave Jacksonville a 31-25 lead. Smith scored seven of his team-high 10 points in the third quarter. Brandon Brockman also scored 10 points for the Red Devils.
“I’ve never been a part of game this physical where at the end of the game one team had nine fouls and the other team three fouls,” said McClellan coach Chris Threatt. “If you’re going to blow the whistle on everything, that’s fine. If you’re going to let them play, that’s fine. Just be consistent on both ends.”
Jacksonville had a much easier time Tuesday night, going on the road and blowing out Helena-West Helena Central 82-58 in a mercy rule win. McCleary led Jacksonville with 16 points in the win.
The Red Devils will take on one of the few teams in the conference to really give them trouble when Pulaski Academy comes to the Devil’s Den Friday night.
Jacksonville beat the Bruins 68-65 in the first meeting, withstanding Pulaski Academy’s three-point barrage.
“Those guys hit everything from everywhere the first time we played,” said Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner. “Wide open threes, hand right in their face, five feet past the line, it didn’t matter. Every conference game is going to be a battle and it definitely will be if they shoot like that again.”