By KEVIN HARRIS
On Feb. 2 at Johnson Arena, the Jeffersonville Red Devils nearly pulled off one of their biggest victories of the season as they lost to Evansville Harrison — one of the top teams in Class 4A, 73-70.
At about noon on Saturday, Jeff (22-3) will get a second chance to try and take down the Class 4A No. 4 Warriors (22-1) as both teams will square in the Class 4A Seymour Regional semifinals at Scott Gym.
The regional will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday as Class 4A No. 3 Columbus North (23-1) will take on Conference Indiana rival Franklin Central (11-10) in the first semi. Saturday’s championship game will tip off at 8 p.m. at Scott Gym.
In the regular-season matchup against Harrison, the Devils had a tough time containing the trio of Duncan brothers — 6-foot-3 junior guard Ernie Duncan and sophomore twin brothers Stanley and Everett Duncan, who stand 6-5 and 6-6, respectively.
The siblings combined for 58 points in Harrison’s three-point win over Jeff. Everett Duncan tallied a game-high 29 points, while Ernie Duncan had 15 and Stanley Duncan scored 14. Rounding out the Warriors’ starting lineup are 5-10 senior guard Brandon Stewart and 6-4 senior forward De’Niko Scott.
The Jeff-Harrison rematch is expected to be a high-scoring affair. The Red Devils rank 11th in Indiana in scoring (73.4 points per game), while the Warriors are 14th (72.4).
“When they came down here and played us, they beat us down the court for transition buckets. This time, we’ve got to think of something to take away from them. That is either take away transition baskets or take away rebound baskets,” Jeff coach Chad Gilbert said. “Ernie Duncan is as good of a guard as there is in the state, and his two brothers are as good of scorers as there are in the state. We’ve got to make sure we identify those guys. Scott is a tenacious rebounder and Stewart is a strong athlete who has the ability to step out and hit timely [3-pointers].”
The Red Devils will be without one of their top players in their attempt to get vengeance on Harrison.
Junior guard Keenan Williams must sit out Saturday’s regional semi after he got ejected from last weekend’s 63-50 triumph over New Albany in the Class 4A Seymour Sectional championship. Williams, who fouled out against the Bulldogs, left the bench after a scuffle between both teams happened late in the game. Under IHSAA rules, a player who gets ejected from a contest is suspended for the next game. But if Jeff wins the regional semi, then Williams will be allowed to play in the final.
If last week’s Seymour Sectional gave out a most valuable player award, Williams most likely would have won it. He averaged 21.7 points per game in the Red Devils’ three sectional victories last week, which included matching his career-high of 28 points in their 87-60 first-round victory over Floyd Central. Williams has averaged 13.3 points per game this season.
But throughout the season, Jeff has found several players to step up and make plays when it has battled adversity.
For example, Red Devil senior Jacquari Chandler scored 11 of his game-high 19 points in the fourth quarter in the sectional-title win over New Albany. Meanwhile, Jeff’s leading scorer Darryl Baker was held to seven points by Bulldog senior Garrett Arnold in New Albany’s box-and-one defense.
Another example is senior Kortrell White making all six of his free throws in overtime to give Jeff an 83-79 victory at Columbus East on Jan. 19 when four Red Devils had fouled out, which included Baker.
Gilbert gives three reasons why his players have the knack to step up when one of their teammates are out of the lineup.
“One, they’re competitors. Two, they’re winners. And three, they care about each other,” Gilbert said. “We know that Keenan feels bad that he’s not going to be able to play, and we want to give him the opportunity to play in a regional. We want to win for the six seniors that lost [at regional] last year. We feel like we’ve got a basketball family here and every time we go out, we want to represent them the best we can.
“We’ve been in these situations before and it’s the next man up. Our guys that will step up and make those plays will be excited for the opportunity. They won’t back down from it. They will embrace the opportunity for a chance to play and make the most of it.”
If the Red Devils get past Harrison, most likely they will take on Columbus North in Saturday’s regional final. Jeff lost to the Bull Dogs in the championship game of the Bob Wettig Tournament on Dec. 29 in Richmond, 61-55.
Columbus North, which ranks 13th in the state in scoring offense (72.8 ppg), has three players who are averaging at least 12 points per game. Six-two junior guard Evan Henry leads the Bull Dogs at 13.9 points a contest, followed by 6-4 senior guard Sawyer Glick at 13.1 a game. Sophomore center Josh Speidel, who stands 6-8, averages 12.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest.
Henry scored 18 points in the Bull Dogs’ regular-season win over Jeff, hitting four 3-pointers. That performance helped earn him MVP honors at the Wettig Tournament.
“They’ve got great size and great skill,” Gilbert said. “Their guards can knock [shots] down and their bigs are agile, can move around and make each other better.”
Franklin Central has four players who score between 10 and 11 points per game, led by 6-3 senior guard Forrester Sims (10.9 points a contest) and 6-5 junior wing player Lucas Huffman (10.6 ppg).
The Seymour Regional is considered one of the toughest regionals in the state, and Gilbert agrees with that assessment.
“It’s going to be a battle, but any game in 4A is going to be a battle. Four-A basketball is a man’s game. You’ve got to lace them up tight every night and know you are going to get some stiff competition,” Gilbert said. “All four teams are going to be formidable opponents. It’s about surviving and advancing and doing what’s won us 22 games this season and playing with confidence. We’ve been here before and we want to use that to our advantage.”
Gilbert says there are several keys for the Red Devils if they are to collect their 18th regional championship in school history and their first since 2010. The regional champion will play the Southport Regional champ in the Class 4A semi-state on Saturday, March 16 in either Seymour or Richmond.
“We will have to mix up our stuff as we go along, both offensively and defensively,” Gilbert said. “We’ll have to limit both teams to one shot. Rebounding is going to be the key in both games. We have to keep our composure and execute under fire.
“The last thing is we want to get more easy baskets than our opponent. Transition defense and rebounding will tell the tale, especially in the morning game.”
SEYMOUR REGIONAL STAFF PERSPECTIVES
Kevin Harrison, Sports Reporter: “Sure, the loss of Keenan Williams will have an effect on Jeff. But the critical factor in this contest will be if Harrison can handle the Red Devils’ full-court press like it did in the regular-season meeting. All three Duncan brothers for the Warriors can each handle and shoot the ball, and I think they will make enough plays to get past Jeff. Harrison is the best team I’ve seen all year. Therefore, I need to stick with my guns and pick them to win the regional.”
Matt Koesters, News Reporter: “The question is whether this Jeffersonville team is better than the one that lost to Evansville Harrison by three in the regular season. With Keenan Williams in the lineup, the answer’s probably yes. Without him? Definitely not. Chad Gilbert’s a good coach, but this kind of adversity might be insurmountable. Here’s hoping the Red Devils prove us all wrong.”
Mike Riley, Sports Correspondent: “Some think the absence of Keenan Williams will hurt Jeffersonville. I don’t think so. The Red Devils have proven on more than one occasion that they are not a one man team. After defeating Harrision in the morning, they will take the court in the evening with a fresh Williams and defeat Columbus North for the sectional title.”
Ryan Ingram, Sports Correspondent: “Jeff lost only twice to in-state foes this season, by a combined nine points. They’ll likely have to avenge both defeats to reach the semi-state round of the tournament. I see that giving them the motivation to keep marching towards Indy.”
Joseph Adams, Sports Correspondent: “Harrison has had a great season and it continues after they squeak past Jeffersonville in the first game. They will face a tough Columbus North team, but just like they will do against Jeff they will stay composed and win the regional championship 63-61.”
Jon Reiter, Sports Correspondent: “I think the difference between North, Jeffersonville and Harrison is razor-thin. If Jeffersonville is to advance to the championship game, Darryl Baker is going to have to carry them with Keenan Williams out with a suspension. Ultimately, I think Harrison, which has beaten Jeff the last two times they’ve played, is just too talented with senior guard Ernie Duncan and junior forwards Everett and Stanley Duncan. But Columbus North is even more talented than Harrison. In my opinion the Bull Dogs are perfect combination of size, experience and moxie that could result in them cutting down the nets in Conseco Fieldhouse in a few weeks. What an entertaining regional this is. “