Community unity will be the theme as John Tyler tries to become the first team to beat Jacksonville in the regular season finale tonight.
A standing-room only crowd expects to be on hand at the Lions Den to see JT (13-14, 7-2) take on No. 10 Jacksonville (32-0, 9-0) in a District 16-4A basketball game.
The junior varsity game tips off first at 5 p.m., followed by the freshmen’s district championship game (6:15 p.m.) and varsity headliner (7:45 p.m.).
Jacksonville locked up the outright district crown with a 49-35 win over Whitehouse last Friday, unseating JT from its two-year reign in the process.
“Anybody in the city of Tyler who is breathing needs to come out in white,” said first-year JT coach Cedeno Clark said, who decided to go with the “White Out” night at the urging of freshman coach James Mosley. “There will be a lot of energy, and a packed house.”
Jacksonville stifled Whitehouse with its hyped defense, lowering the Wildcats - the lone team to hit the 50-point plateau on the Indians in district - by 21 points from the first contest.
“They’ve been playing together the last 3-4 years,” Clark said of Jacksonville, which is coached by Brent Kelley. “They got an early start after the football team lost in the first round. They’re a tough group.”
JT earned the second spot with a 61-38 victory over Lindale last Friday. The Lions’ district championship hopes hit a bump in the road with a loss to Corsicana in the first round, a game four JT starters missed on football recruiting visits. A 50-49 loss at Jacksonville in the following contest further hindered JT’s chances. The Lions led by 13 points in the third period before seeing their lead evaporate and turn into a deficit at the night’s end.
The Lions view tonight’s high-stakes contest, minus the high stakes, as an indicator of where they stand among the state’s elite. The core of the current team all played on JT’s regional quarterfinalist in 2011 and last year’s area finalist. JT owns a 4-2 record over Jacksonville, a 2011 regional semifinalist, during the timeframe.
“We’re going against a top 10 team that’s undefeated,” Clark said. “We’re going in to gauge ourselves and try to see where we stand.”
Jacksonville rallied back late to win the first game, 50-49. JT led by 13 points early in the third period before Jacksonville erupted to score 28 points over the final 12 minutes after netting only 20 through 20 minutes.
“We did everything we went in to do,” said Clark, whose team won the rebounding battle (40-29) and shot 83 percent from the line in the earlier affair. “We didn’t finish for whatever reason. I believe this time the boys will be able to finish.”
Jacksonville tends to keep games low scoring, allowing only 43.6 points, with JT, averaging 56.5 points, more apt to push the pace. The Indians turned the ball over only seven times compared to the Lions’ 13 in the first meeting. Raybon Riden recorded a game-high 16 points, and Kedarius Buckingham and Daytron Thompson tallied 10 points each for the Indians. Dadrian Franklin fueled Jacksonville’s defense with seven blocks and two steals.
Tyus Bowser led JT with 10 points and 15 rebounds, Issac Warren chipped in with 12 points and Fred Ross finished with 11 points and six rebounds for the Lions. The teams tied in fastbreak points with eight apiece.
“We have to get in our transition game, play sound defense and limit them to one shot,” Clark said. “Our style gets us to the free throw line. We have to capitalize.
“We’ll be up for the challenge.”