Blue Devils edge Central for key 7A-East win
By Billy Woods WM School District
Jarquez McClendon admitted he wasn’t flowing with confidence standing at the foul line with the game tied and six seconds to play. What’s more, his own coach, Larry Bray, wasn’t either. You couldn’t tell, though, because McClendon drained two free throws to give his West Memphis Blue Devils a crucial 50-48 win over Little Rock Central on Tuesday night at Lehr Arena. McClendon missed a key one-and-one less than a minute earlier and the Blue Devils as a team were only 2 or 9 from the charity stripe before McClendon’s two winners. “I thought I was going to miss,” McClendon said matter of factly. “They were either going in or they weren’t, so I decided I wasn’t going to waste any time up there.” Working with an eight-point lead still with three minutes to play, Bray ordered his “Fist” offense, designed to spread out the defense for layups or free throws. After Central erased that eight-point deficit when Cameron Johnson stole the ball and made a layup to tie the game with 5 seconds to play, Bray called his troops to take he last shot. McClendon got the ball on the high post and made his move to the basket with two defenders draped all over him. “I got on (McClendon) before that and after the game I went over to tell him I was glad he proved me wrong,” Bray said with a laugh. “I told him before that I didn’t need him driving to the goal if he can’t make free throws.” The Blue Devils (11-9 overall, 4-3 in the 7A/6A-East Conference) still had six seconds left and they had just witnessed Central’s Jacobi Platt drain two very deep threes to put the Tigers back in the game. But the biggest weapon the Blue Devils had going for them was they still had a foul to give before putting Central in the bonus. Brandon Atwood timed his foul on Platt very well, hacking him with 1.8 seconds to play and well before the Tigers reached halfcourt. Still, Platt got off a running three from mid-court after he appeared to travel before launching the ball. The shot barely missed. It hit the front of the rim and bounced off at the buzzer. “That was a very big win,” Bray said, emphasizing the word very. “That was one of our 7A games that we need to win to go to the state tournament.” The Blue Devils are now 2-1 in the 7A-East while Central falls to 1-2. Cabot is also 2-1. The game was tight through three quarters until the WM started the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run on only three shots, but one of them was miraculous. Sophomore Zachary Byrd, who scored 9 points, dived out of bounds to save a loose ball and it landed in teammate Ahmere Albert’s hands. Albert let one fly from three-point range and it hit nothing but nylon. Later, McClendon stuck back a missed shot to give West Memphis a 44-36 lead. Robert Harris, who led all scorers with 15 points, hit a layup with 3:01 to play for a 46-38 Blue Devil cushion. But Platt got hot with his two long bombs and Central erased the moderate deficit very quickly. “It was a big win in a number of ways, ” Bray added. “You don’t like to lose leads late in the game and we ended up pulling this one out.” The Blue Devils shook off a poor-shooting first half in which they went 9 of 24 from the field and while Central (11-8, 3-4) turned it over 15 times through three quarters, the hosts couldn’t capitalize on the miscues. West Memphis shot it much better in the second half going 11 of 22, including 3 of 7 from three-point range. Albert chipped in 6 points for the winners while Martavious Johnson had 5 and McClendon had 4. Cameron Johnson and Platt each scored 12 to lead Little Rock Central while Rogers hit 8. The Blue Devils now start the second half of the conference slate on Friday with a game at Marion.