By JON RETIER
Host Jeffersonville went toe-to-toe with the No. 1 ranked team in Kentucky on Tuesday night at William S. Johnson Arena. But a Darryl Baker three-quarter-court prayer at the final buzzer fell short and the Red Devils lost to Louisville Ballard, 69-67.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Jeffersonville coach Chad Gilbert said. “Great crowd. How often do you get the No. 1 team in the state of Kentucky on your home floor? We felt like we let one get away from us tonight. We had missed box outs ... and the turnovers really hurt us. That wasn’t all our guards fault. When you’ve got their guards hounding the ball, we’ve got to be able to get in there and meet the passes.”
Indeed, the Red Devils (3-1) committed a season-high 31 turnovers, but forced the Bruins (3-1) into 22 of their own. And the Red Devils met the challenge of stopping Ballard junior Quentin Snider, a University of Louisville signee who was held scoreless in the first quarter and committed four turnovers in front of a raucous crowd during the first eight minutes.
Snider finished with 12 points, but he wasn’t the best player on the court on Tuesday.
That honor went to Baker, who scored 30 points, including 12-of-12 shooting from the free-throw line, and grabbed nine rebounds.
With 3.7 seconds left in the third quarter, Baker left the game after rolling his ankle on a Ballard defender. But he came back to score 10 points in the final quarter, including a 3-pointer to tie the game up at 64 with less than three minutes remaining in the contest.
“He came back strong and battled until the end,” Gilbert said. “Darryl’s outstanding. He had 30 against Snyder and 38 against [Jaquan] Lyle out there [in a season-opening win at Evansville Bosse on Dec. 1]. He’s as good as there is around. There were a couple of trips where fatigue set in, and there was the issue with his ankle. But Darryl is going to be fine.”
It was 66-65 with just over one minute remaining in the contest when Jeffersonville guard Drew Ellis stepped in front of burly Ballard center Kelan Martin, who was dominating the Red Devils inside and finished with 22 points, to draw a charging foul. After Jeffersonville took over the possession, a jumper from about 17 feet by Baker missed. Ballard guard Jalen Perry grabbed the rebound, was fouled, and sank two free throws to make the score 68-65 with 28 seconds left.
Following a deflected pass by Ballard, Jeff’s Kortrell White scored a basket off an inbounds pass with 11 seconds left to make it 68-67 Ballard. Baker fouled Snider on the other end to send the Ballard star to the free-throw line. Snider missed the front end of the one-and-one, but the Red Devils turned the ball over at midcourt with time running down and Perry was fouled again.
Perry sank the first free throw with 1.9 seconds remaining and missed the second. After the miss, Baker grabbed the rebound. But his desperation heave fell short, and the Bruins escaped with the hard-fought victory.
White and Ellis scored 11 points apiece for Jeffersonville, which next face Silver Creek on Friday night in Sellersburg.
Even with the loss, it’s clear that the Red Devils will be a force to be reckoned with throughout the season. Combine the win over Class 3A No. 7 Bosse with two impressive blowout victories over Madison and Seymour and the narrow loss to Ballard and it seems as if the Red Devils’ early season 3-1 mark deserves some respect.
But Martin, a 6-foot-6 center and possible NCAA Division I recruit, posed some problems inside for Jeffersonville, which despite its skilled guard play gave up a lot of size underneath the basket.
“Darryl hit the game-winning shot against Bosse, and if he doesn’t hit that shot, we’re having the same feeling then as we do now,” Gilbert said. “What we can take away from this is that we’re concerned about our rebounding. I think in the third and fourth quarters that Ballard really got the best of us on the boards. We’ve basically got five guards out there. We have to gang-rebound out there and get to the ball.”