Home team narrowly misses upset of defending Class 6A champs
By Billy Woods WM School District
Things continue to be progressing nicely for a revamped group of West Memphis Blue Devils after two impressive showings in their annual Blue Devil Classic. The Blue Devils blew out Blytheville 65-40 on Friday night and then nearly pulled off an upset against the defending Class 6A state champion Pine Bluff Zebras before falling 59-55 on Saturday. The loss on Saturday snapped a five-game winning streak for the Blue Devils, all of those wins coming after head coach Larry Bray went with five new starters in the second game of the Marion Classic on Thanksgiving week. “We’re definitely playing better,” said Bray. “We’ve still got a lot of things we need to work on. We’re doing some good things on the court, but we still suffer some mental lapses.” Thus far, the Blue Devils (5-4) look vulnerable against full-court pressure. Leading by eight after three quarters against Pine Bluff (6-0) the Blue Devils turned it over seven times against the Zebra press in the fourth quarter and it led to several frustration fouls which sent the red-hot free-throw shooting visitors to the charity stripe. One night after burning Marion for 26 of 30 shooting from the free-throw line in a 67-55 win, the Zebras hit 14 of 19 from the line in the fourth quarter alone. “The first half we executed, but we had too many turnovers down the stretch,” Bray added. “We knew (Pine Bluff) were going to make their free throws after watching what they did against Marion. Against the press we got in too big a hurry and made some bad decisions with the ball.” Pine Bluff’s Marcus Thomas, who hit a game-high 33 points, made the play of the game when he stole a ball in the back court and turned it into a three-point play, giving the Zebras their first lead of the night at 57-55 with 54 seconds to play in the game. While the Blue Devils succumbed to the Zebras’ press, the visitors turned it over only once in the fourth quarter and hit 5 of 8 shots from the field. Bray’s club, however, executed to near perfection for the better part of three quarters against a talented Pine Bluff squad. The Devils hit 11 of 22 shots in the first half and enjoyed leads of eight and nine points most of the way. Sophomore Zachary Byrd, gaining more high-leverage minutes as the early season progresses, paced the Blue Devils with 17 points while senior forward Gary Ward put in 11 and Ahmere Albert and Demarious Hudson each scored 7. On Friday night, the Blue Devils seized the game from Blytheville in the second half. Leading 27-20 with 3:21 left before halftime, Bray inserted senior three-point threat Dylan Gazo into the game and he ignited a 12-0 surge by West Memphis to end the first half. Gazo hit 12 of the points and junior post man Tevin Mosley had the other two baskets on tip-ins. West Memphis led 39-20 at intermission. The Blue Devils hammered Blytheville (0-3) on the glass 41-18 and although they allowed the Chicks to within 12 midway through the third quarter they were never endanger of losing their big lead. “I looked up and saw we it was a 12-point ballgame and I said ‘that’s what I’m talking about,”’ Bray commented. “If we want to be a good ball team it’s all about confidence, but it’s also about not falling asleep out there, especially in the second half.” West Memphis hit the Chicks for the first nine points of the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach, 58-36. One other aspect of the win over Blytheville made Bray smile. His club placed 12 players in the scoring column, but not one of them hit for double figures. “That’s the kind of balance a club like this has to have,” he said. “We don’t have the talent to rely on one or two players. We’ve got to do it collectively.” Robert Harris and Byrd led the Devils with nine points while Mosley and Gazo each scored eight. Hudson also pumped in seven points.