JACKSONVILLE — John Tyler acting coach Cedeno Clark stared down his players right before the opening tip, painting a mood of calm and urgency. The Lions were about to compete for a district title, less than a week after their season took a drastic turn.
“It’s time to go after them,” said Clark, referring to his silent message. “Basically, this boils down to you.”
Playing without head coach Tony Pinson for the second straight game, JT churned out a gritty 34-30 victory against Jacksonville before a raucous crowd Tuesday night at Lon Morris College.
The triumphant result was back-to-back District 14-4A crowns and the end of a two-game losing streak, the Lions’ first league losses in two years.
“More than anything, I’m just happy for the kids,” Clark said. “They have been down with all the things going on with Coach P.”
Pinson was hospitalized last Thursday because of heart problems, two days after the Lions’ 25-game district winning streak was haulted in a 63-62 road loss to Marshall. Pinson was released from the hospital earlier this week, and has been recovering at home.
The blows kept coming Friday, when JT returned the Lions Den and fell 64-56 to Kilgore to fall from the top of the league standings for the first time since joining Class 4A. That meant the pressure was on Tuesday, versus a rival squad that eliminated JT from the postseason last year after the Lions swept them in district.
“It means a lot,” JT post Tyus Bowser said. “We lost two games in a row and that hurt us pretty bad.”
Bowser finished the night with a game-high 16 points, continuing his dominance of the paint and glass despite JT being forced to the perimeter for much of the night because of Jacksonville’s 2-3 zone. The junior silenced the Indians at the foul line, making it a two-possession game with less than 10 seconds left.
The free throw capped a fourth quarter in which the Lions (23-7, 12-2) turned a back-and-forth contest into an eight-point lead, 30-22, with 2:19 remaining.
Jacksonville (24-8, 12-2), which receives the second playoff seed because of dropping both matchups against JT, found a silver lining in the loss.
“I told our kids before the game that they were lucky to play in a district championship game at the end of the season,” Indians coach Brent Kelley said. “We feel privileged to be in a game with them.”
Dadrian Franklin scored nine points and Darius Clater added eight to lead the Indians, who entered the game with a six-game winning streak after falling 62-51 to JT in the first meeting between the teams.
In the fourth quarter, Jacksonville went ahead 22-21 on a basket in the low post by Kedarrius Buckingham. The Indians, however, lost the lead on an ensuing free throw and trailed the rest of the way despite making a push in the final minute.
The Lions went into celebration mode.
“I’ve been through ups and downs in my life before as an adult, but I’m just happy for the kids,” Clark said. “They deserve this. They worked extremely hard from beginning to end. For the game to come down like this, playing Jacksonville for the district championship, 34-30, you couldn’t ask for anything else.”
John Tyler went into the break with a 14-13 lead, capping a back-and-forth half that featured several lead changes. The Lions scored the go-ahead basket when Bowser found Greg Ward under the basket via a nifty assist with 10 seconds remaining, moments after Ward missed from long range.
Bowser, who came in averaging 15 points and nine rebounds a game, completed the half with seven points. He scored the game’s first points on a putback, before the Indians hit back-to-back 3-pointers to go in front 6-2.
Bowser completed a three-point-play about a minute into the second quarter, though, to put the Lions back up 10-8.
Franklin scored seven points in the half for Jacksonville.
John Tyler 34, Jacksonville 30
At Lon Morris College, Jacksonville
John Tyler 7 7 7 13 — 34
Jacksonville 8 5 7 10 — 30
JOHN TYLER — Tyus Bowser, 16; Caleb Willis, 6; Greg Ward, 3; Darion Flowers, 6; Jordan Caldwell, 3.
JACKSONVILLE — Kedarrius Buckingham, 7; Darius Clater, 8; Dadrian Franklin, 9; Raybon Riden, 4; Londeric Taylor, 2.
THREE-POINT GOALS — JT: Caldwell. J: Clater, Franklin (2).
RECORDS — John Tyler 23-7 (12-2); Jacksonville 24-8 (12-2).
JV SCORE — John Tyler 40, Jacksonville 39.
NEXT UP — John Tyler vs. TBA; Jacksonville vs. TBA.