One more victory, and Jacksonville will find itself on a familiar stage — in a different class.
Aaron Smith totaled 18 points and four steals, Justin McCleary contributed 15 points and seven rebounds, and Jacksonville defeated Wynne 61-37 Friday in a 5A state quarterfinal game at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
Now, the highly anticipated matchup between Jacksonville, a 6A finalist two of the past four seasons, and back-to-back 4A champion Clarksville is set for 7:30 tonight for a trip to next weekend’s championship in Little Rock. But it’s not what Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner calls an exciting matchup.
“Come on, now, who’s going to be excited to play a team like Clarksville? I’m not excited,” Joyner said. “I’m intrigued about playing them because they’re the top team in our conference. You’ve got that much court experience and guys play well together as they do, I mean it’s going to be a good game. I look forward to it, the kids look forward to it.”
Joyner’s Red Devils (23-4) left little doubt they’d be in the semifinals, leading the Yellowjackets (16-11) by double digits from the start of the second quarter to the finish. The Jackets were held without a field goal for 10 1/2 minutes in the first half, as the Devils went on an 18-4 run to take a 28-12 halftime lead.
Jacksonville’s zone defense challenged Wynne’s shot opportunities inside the perimeter during the first half, and Jacksonville controlled the boards throughout the game for a 32-17 rebounding advantage.
“There was a slight intimidation factor,” Wynne coach Russell Jones said. “Jacksonville has a storied program. They’re an outstanding team. My guys, I just really felt like they were uncomfortable starting out. Third quarter, we came out extremely strong, but for whatever reason, I just don’t think we were ready.”
Wynne matched Jacksonville basket for basket early in the third quarter and got within as close as 41-29 with 7:15 left in the game. The Devils hit seven of their next nine free throws and built a 52-35 advantage with about 3 minutes to go, when both teams cleared their benches.
The Jackets’ tournament run ended a day after a classic finish against Camden Fairview, when Romontae Marrs drove the length of the floor for a buzzer-beating layup in a 67-65 overtime victory. Marrs scored all eight of Wynne’s first quarter points against Jacksonville and finished with 10, while backcourt mate Keenen Halk led the team with 11 points.
Jacksonville hit 15 of 23 from the free-throw line and made five treys. Wynne was 9 for 17 at the line and connected on four three-pointers.
The Red Devils’ focus is now on a Clarksville team led by the school’s all-time scoring leader, 6-foot-2 guard and Oral Roberts verbal commit Dederick Lee.
“This is the state tournament,” Joyner said. “You have to be ready to play. You don’t call it excitement. You call it focus. I focus on the task at hand, and that’s trying to win a state title. Unfortunately, to get a chance, we’ve got to go through Clarksville.”