The Jacksonville Red Devils will test their balanced offensive and defensive game against the sharp-shooting Alma Airedales in the Class 5A State Championship game.
Anyone needing proof of how dangerous the Airedales can be need only ask Little Rock McClellan. As the No. 2 seed from the Central and having gone down to the wire twice with Jacksonville, the Lions were expected to beat the Airedales, the No. 3 seed out of the West.
Instead, Alma was able to handle the McClellan defensive pressure while knocking down nine three-pointers. The Airedales also made nine threes in a semifinal win over the conference rival Harrison Goblins.
"They’re going to drive in and kick back out for a three," said Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner. "We already know they’re good at that. We have to get ready for everything else they do well."
Alma doesn’t rely on just one long-range shooter either. All five of the starters are likely to pull up and shoot, although Austin Lee and Brock Widders had the hot hands in the state tournament. Just a sophomore, Lee knocked down four threes and scored 22 points against Harrison. Widders made a trio of threes in the win. Gage Jensen made one three, but got inside and to the line enough to score 19 against the Goblins.
Alma is a fundamentally sound defensive team, but it is unlikely they’ve seen a team with the fundamentals Jacksonville has when it comes to rebounding. The Red Devils block out and regularly beat larger teams on the boards.
The Red Devils seem to have the edge at most spots on the court, but a barrage of three-pointers could be the great equalizer if the Airedales can get open shots. Harrison had success against Alma going to their 6-7 post when their leading scorer Alex Rose was on the bench. Jacksonville also has a 6-7 post in Keith Charleston, and also has more weapons than Harrison.
Guards Justin McCleary, Aaron Smith and Sergio Berkley can all either shoot from beyond the arc or drive to the lane and finish.
"They’re going to be a patient and work for an open shot," said Joyner. "We’ve got to do our best to limit those open looks and be patient ourselves on offense."
— Chad Matchett