For the third consecutive year, the Arab boys varsity basketball team is in the Northeast Regional at Jacksonville State after a solid 69-50 win over Crossville in the subregional Tuesday night.
The Knights are scheduled to face Center Point at 1:30 p.m. today in Class 5A action. The game can be heard live on WRAB-AM 1380, or, you can access YouTube on the internet and search WRAB for the broadcast as well, compliments of Carson Clark.
Tuesday’s subregion final score sounds predictable enough. The Lions came into the game 12-12 after playing a somewhat light schedule with a limited roster. But, they had won six of their last seven, including two wins in their area tournament, and they could shoot.
Crossville opened the game with a 7-0 lead before the Knights scratched out a 13-12 first-quarter lead that saw Colby King pick up two fouls in the first four minutes. James Ed Johnson came in, only to pick up two quick fouls in the second quarter as Arab muddled through too many missed shots to manage a 27-22 halftime lead.
In the second half, the inevitable began to emerge as Arab broke an often full-court press, began making shots and dominated the inside. The Lions were very respectable playing a very tenacious defense and knocking down nine 3’s on offense, including five from junior Landin Cox, who had 22 points.
But, Brooks Malone was hard to handle inside, muscling and rebounding his way to 20 points for Arab. Kent Tyler answered the scrappy Lions with drive after drive to finish with 16 points, and King had 10 points. Johnson and Trevor Miller had eight points each.
For coach Justin Jonus, it wasn’t so much about how his team executed as it was handling the pressure of a must-win game.
“The bottom line is, we stepped up,” said a somewhat under the weather Jonus. “A game like this put more pressure on us than almost any game we played because we had been to the regionals two years in a row and were expected to win against a team with only six players.
“As a coach, that’s the hardest game to prepare for. Crossville did a good job tonight. They were playing loose hitting 3’s and banking in 3’s. They were speeding us up and that’s probably what I would have done if I had been coaching them.
“But we had some guys hit shots.”
Jonus couldn’t help but notice Tyler’s effort on the floor.
“Kent was an all-star tonight,” Jonus said. “He was amazing. I was super proud of the toughness he brought but he’s such a leader and has been all through his career. He’s a winner.”
Getting to the regional for the third year in a row with a team that suffered and played through several injuries was reason enough for the coach to sound like a proud grandmama.
“Three regional appearances in three straight years with the pressure on us to accomplish history is huge,” he said. “I’m going to project that everywhere and make sure everybody understands what these kids have done in this program.
“That’s what I’m most proud of is the legacy these kids are going to leave for others.”
Ten of the 12 players who comprised the varsity team at the beginning of the season are seniors.
Center Point, at 13-14, is not exactly loaded, giving Arab’s coaches reason to be optimistic.
“They’ll use pressure but if we can handle that, we should be fine,” Jonus said.
Coaches Brad Kitchens and Jonathan Embry watched the Eagles play Springville.
“They didn’t shoot the ball particularly well and I can’t lie, we’ve got a great chance,” Jonus said. “But, we’ve got to control the pace and rebound hard.
“They’re still a good team.”
Center Point defeated Alexandria 43-34 in its subregion game, and has wins over Moody, Hewitt-Trussville and Parker. Obviously, it plays in a tough league, so Arab must be on top of its game if it wants to advance to the region finals on Wednesday.
“Of course, they’re good, they’re in the regionals but this is a great opportunity for our guys,” Jonus said.
Arab’s Blake Kelley was scheduled to be at the doctor’s office to examine his broken hand yesterday (Friday). If the cast came off, he may can play with much more freedom than he has recently. He has had good games even with the cast, but you have to think it could only be better without it.
Prior to Arab’s game, there will be some familiar teams in 5A action at Jacksonville. The Boaz and Southside girls will play at 9 a.m., the Guntersville and Springville boys will play at 10:30, and the Brewer and Center Point girls will play at noon.