By MITZI THOMPSON
Jeffersonville’s inside scoring made up for Evansville Reitz’s outside onslaught Friday night in Jeff’s Willliam S. Johnson arena — but just barely.
The 11th-ranked host Red Devils used a third-quarter press and a 29-point performance in the paint by Darryl Baker to hold off the formidible Panthers, 81-75.
“They play like Butler. They play like Michigan out there,” Jeff coach Chad Gilbert said of the Panthers, who have now lost five straight to the Red Devils. “They definitely put us in some tough spots with their shooting.”
Reitz’s five first-half 3-pointers — and three more out of the chute to open the second — allowed the 10-7 Panthers to hang in there, and even gave them a small, but short-lived, advantage with just a little more than three minutes to go in the third quarter.
But that’s when Jeff turned up the heat on defense and used an aggressive press to force and then convert on three straight turnovers in the backcourt. That 9-3 run, during which Baker scored five, led to Reitz’s eventual demise.
“We wanted to speed things up a little bit and put a little pressure on them at the same time,” said Gilbert. “They wouldn’t go away, though, no matter what we threw at them. We’d put a triangle-and-two on them and then a different kid would step up and hit a shot. They’re a strong team.”
The sophomore-strong Panthers wound up scoring 39 — more than half their points — from 3-point land. Sophomore guard Jaelan Sanford drilled six from beyond the arc. Fellow soph Alex Stein hit four.
Jeff (14-2), however, scored just a handful of points off jumpers, but relied heavily on its inside prowess and shot an impressive 36-of-54 from the field for 67 percent. The senior Baker, who turned in a double-double with 10 rebounds to go with his game-high points, shot 74 percent himself.
“That’s great. Hey, I’m impressed,” Gilbert said with a grin. “But that’s the product of taking good shots. I want for us to get better every single game, and I felt that a few times tonight we chose just good shots instead of getting set and waiting for a great shot. But hey, 67 percent, that’s pretty good.”
Jeff started the night with near perfection, hitting five of its first six attempts and rushing out to a 10-2 lead in a quick, run-and-gun fashion before Reitz acclimated to the up-pace tempo and soon caught back up with perimeter scoring. Thirty seconds into the second quarter, Sanford knocked down a long ball to give the game its first tie at 22-22.
From there, it was give and take until Jeff’s third-quarter run.
It was a good night all-around for the Red Devils. Columbus East’s win over Jennings County gives Jeff at least a share of the Hoosier Hills Conference title for the second straight season.
Saturday, the Red Devils face another Evansville team when Class 4A No. 7 Harrison visits.