Down by a dozen midway through the third quarter and indefinitely minus their two leading seniors (Jamal Collier and Jye Roberts, absent for undisclosed reasons), the Red Devils had a pressing matter to settle here Saturday evening: To whom would they turn now?
From an emotional standpoint, Cameron Edwards, the tall, slender sophomore, hardly seemed the leading candidate. He was running hot — his needle fully in the red, blood boiling, barely able to restrain the urge to clap back against the Monticello Hurricanes’ smack — at the very hour the Red Devils needed an iceman at the helm.
But, after picking up one technical foul and while skirting the quivering lip of a night-ending second, Edwards chilled just long enough to score 10 of his team-high 22 points and the Red Devils rallied to a 61-57 victory over their Jasper County rivals.
It capped a week in which the Red Devils won two of three — spanking Pike County 70-40 on Tuesday before losing 71-36 to powerhouse Central-Macon on Friday.
They trailed the Hurricanes 40-28 with four minutes left in the third quarter and, after D’vonte Evans sank a free throw, Edwards started taking control by rattling off seven straight points. By the end of the third quarter, they trailed by only two, with another pressing matter — the full-court defense that gave Monticello fits.
“I was telling Coach Jeff (Myricks) that we were looking for something defensively to get us going,” head coach Virgil Amey said. “We were switching defenses. Our zone was pretty good but we still just couldn’t get over the hump. And so he said, ‘Well, we haven’t tried our full-court press yet.’ So once we did that, they didn’t have an answer for it.”
Once they took the lead for good, 49-48 on Edwards’ layup with 6:20 left, the Red Devils put it away with their most impressive effort of the season from the free-throw line. They went 6 of 7 at the line in the final minutes, 17 of 22 overall.
Winning without Collier and Roberts should be “a promising note — what we can do collectively if we do it correctly and stay coachable,” Amey said. “The sky’s the limit.”
Evans added 11 points for Jackson — including a pair of his Jenkinsburg 3-pointers and a vicious shot block — while Dashon Hardge added 10 points, showcasing a solid 3-point touch and deft ball-handling.
They improved to 8-12 and are clinging to fourth place at 4-5 in Region 4-AAA, going into games against Kendrick and Peach County. They host a rematch with non-region rival Mary Persons on Saturday.
Though the Lady Devils struggled, continually leaving the door open for Monticello to rally, they never trailed. They survived their early 13-point lead twice being shaved to a skinny point and pulled out a 47-39 victory, their third in a row, at the end of a week in which Gabbi Cartagena averaged 30 points.
Cartagena scored 24 against Monticello after dropping twin 33s on Pike County (a 61-38 win) and Central (a 60-36 triumph) in a pair of Region 4-AAA games. They have found a way to prosper while senior point guard Kenyata Smith has been out nursing a hyper-extended knee and while Jada Cummings has gone through a bit of a rough patch.
The Lady Devils improved to 14-6 with the non-region win and are 6-3 in the region, second only to Rutland, going into this week’s games.
Kayla Bolston has given the Lady Devils big minutes in the interim. She was the only other Lady Devil in double figures with 10 against the Lady Hurricanes.
“I’m depending on Jada and Kayla to make plays,” Jackson girls coach Karisma Boykin said. “They’re not going to play just like Kenyata, but someone like Kenyata going down, we can still move on and still play good basketball.”