PINE BLUFF — While many teams struggled shooting during the day at the Pine Bluff Convention Center, the Jacksonville Red Devils didn’t have that problem in dispatching Huntsville 74-43 Tuesday night in the 5A State Tournament.
Jacksonville raced out to a 15-0 lead in the first four minutes of the game, and made seven of their first eight three-point attempts.
"That’s a blessing there to shoot like that," said Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner. "It isn’t like we don’t work on shooting, we do that every day. They just don’t always fall like that."
Jacksonville led 23-10 early in the second quarter before Justin McCleary had even attempted a shot. Then McCleary went on an 11-0 run by himself over the course of 90 seconds as Jacksonville lengthened the lead to 38-10. McCleary finished his night with 15 points. Aaron Smith led all scorers with 18 points as Joyner constantly shuffled in fresh lineups.
"That first game in the state tournament is always the hardest to me," said Joyner. "So getting that fast start is paramount. That takes so much of the pressure and anxiety off of the kids."
Huntsville, a 17-9 No. 4 seed out of the West, scored in spurts at times against the Jacksonville reserves, but never got into the game.
Smith and McCleary were the only two Devils in double figures, but they had 11 players score overall.
Defense was also a plus for the Devils, holding the Eagles to one field goal over one eight-minute stretch.
"We played hard and played some good defense and that’s all you can ask," said Joyner. "This is the state tournament and you have to play a little harder and execute a little better right now."
Jacksonville improved to 22-4 with the win. They will take on a more athletic opponent in the next round, as they wait for the winner of Camden Fairview and Wynne. The Devils will play that winner at 5:30 Friday evening.