A pair of wins to cap off the season gave the Jacksonville Red Devils the 5A-Central conference crown and a top seed in next week’s state tournament.
Jacksonville took down Sylvan Hills Tuesday night and came alive in the second half for a win over Pulaski Academy on Friday.
The Red Devils faced a challenge from the Bruins on senior night at the Devil’s Den in a 51-35 win Friday night.
Jacksonville led just 20-15 at halftime as the offense struggled a bit. The Devils, a team that typically outrebounds larger teams, was trailing to the Bruins in a rebound department.
“I told them at halftime that they had to stop getting blocked out and go get the ball,” said Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner. “We were standing around not working at it the first half. When they ball is in the air, you have to man up and battle.”
The Red Devils listened to their coach and outrebounded the Bruins 16-4 in the third quarter while extending that lead to 15 points at 36-21.
Jacksonville also became more patient in the second half, making extra passes and picking up easy layups that weren’t there in the first two quarters.
“I was proud because we made a few adjustments and they responded to the coaching tonight,” Joyner said. “That hasn’t happened in a couple other games.”
Perhaps feeling the pressure on senior night, Jacksonville’s four-year starter at point guard, Justin McCleary, didn’t score in the first half, but bounced back to finish with 10 points and eight rebounds. Post players Keith Charleston and Brandon Brockman led Jacksonville with 12 points apiece.
“Having Keith in there and his 6’7 body makes a difference on both ends,” said Joyner. “We can be a different kind of team with him back in there.”
Pulaski Academy made 13 three-pointers while forcing overtime in the first meeting. The Bruins were unable to duplicate that performance in the Devil’s Den, going 2 for 8 from beyond the arc.
“We’ve been a pretty good defensive team all season,” Joyner said. “After the way they shot last time, we were going to be sure to guard that perimeter.”
The Bruins went into desperation mode in the fourth quarter, switching to a full court press defense to try and force turnovers. That just led to even easier baskets for Jacksonville.
“Honestly, that helped us out because it was pretty easy to beat their press,” Joyner said. “That’s just because it isn’t what they do. We’ve beaten Mills’ and McClellan’s press and they use it a lot. For that to work you have to have everything moving as one and Pulaski Academy just isn’t used to doing that.”
Jacksonville will have a week off to prepare for their state tournament game at 8:30 Tuesday night at the Pine Bluff Convention Center. The Red Devils will play either Huntsville or Morrilton, depending on how they do Friday night.