MONTICELLO — A 30-second sequence near the end of Saturday’s Drew Central-Jacksonville game showed why the Red Devils are the defending 5A state champions.
A dunk by Devin Campbell, backed up by two blocks by Demarion Freeman leading to an alley-oop off the backboard from Campbell to Freeman, showcased the size and athleticism of Jacksonville.
Considering what they were up against, Drew Central head coach C.J. Watson thought his Pirates played an outstanding game despite falling, 68-50, in the semifinals of the Commercial Bank SEARK Holiday Tournament at Monticello High School.
“They were bigger than us at every position,” Watson said. “I thought we played about as well as we could have.”
The final score was not indicative of how close the game was.
Drew Central (7-6) trailed by just one at 16-15 following the first quarter thanks to 10 points from Edward Hunter, who finished with a team-high 17 points.
“I thought for the first three quarters — other than that one spurt — we played them even,” Watson said. “Then in the fourth, their size took over.
“I’m extremely proud of how we played. Playing the defending-5A champion, there’s no better way to prepare us for our conference.”
The Pirates struggled to keep pace in the second quarter. Campbell (8) and Sergio Berkly (7) combined to score 15 points in the period as Jacksonville took a 35-28 lead into halftime. The duo finished the night as the Red Devils’ leading scorers with Campbell scoring 20 and Berkly scoring 15.
Jacksonville opened the second half with a 7-2 run to extend its lead to 12 at 42-30. Drew Central responded to pull within 47-39 and had the ball with a chance to cut the lead to five or six points.
The Pirates, though, came up empty on their final two possessions of the third quarter, while the Red Devils managed three points to take an 11-point lead into the fourth.
Jacksonville kept up the pressure and eventually opened up a 64-47 lead before Campbell and Freeman put on their show to give the Red Devils a 21-point advantage.
Watson said the sequence to end the third quarter was big, but he was more disappointed in how his team did at the foul line.
“Our free throw shooting was horrible,” Watson said. “I know we only made 6 of 13 in the first half.
“A five-point deficit is a lot better than a seven-point one.
“Free throws and turnovers were what really hurt us.”
Jacksonville advances to the championship game to play Little Rock Central. The title game is set to tipoff at 8:05 p.m. Monday at Steelman Fieldhouse on the campus of Arkansas-Monticello.
Drew Central, which also had Tremaine Newton (12) reach double-digits, will take on cross-town rival Monticello in the third-place game at 5:15 p.m. Monday at Steelman Fieldhouse.