Wins were hard to come by last season for the Jacksonville Golden Eagles. There were, to be exact, three. The Golden Eagles entered last year’s Champions Sports Academy Christmas tournament for boys at 2-7 and emerged 2-10.
In a year’s time, second-year head coach Cordell Hunt has produced a spectacular turnaround. The Eagles were 8-2 entering the Champions tournament Wednesday and Thursday’s 52-49 victory over Randolph County in the quarterfinal round upped Jacksonville’s record to 10-2.
“We played a lot of ninth-graders last year and it’s hard to win with ninth-graders on the varsity level. They played hard. They just kept losing some games. A lot of them we just weren’t in,” Hunt said Thursday. “The guys committed last year at the end of the season. They just made up their minds we just weren’t going to be like that again. They worked hard in the offseason. … I’m so happy for our kids right now that they’re winning instead of on the other end of it.”
Jacksonville led Randolph County 14-12 after one quarter then scored the first seven points of the second quarter on a basket by Cade Landers, a 3-point shot by DeMarien Stewart and an inside bucket from DeDarien Savage. Another trey by Stewart made it 28-18 Eagles at halftime. When the third quarter ended the score was 36-36.
Stewart started the fourth-quarter scoring with a 3-pointer from the wing but the Tigers stayed close. A driving basket by Alex Gilbert with 1:13 to play got the Eagles a 48-46 lead. Another drive, this one by Ron Wiggins with 52 seconds to go, put Jacksonville up to stay at 50-48. Wiggins added a free throw with 7.9 seconds left and Donavon McCain’s freebie with 1.7 seconds to go ended the scoring.
“There were some points in that game where I didn’t think we played very well but they didn’t give up. They kept their heads up and we got the win,” Hunt said.
Wiggins finished with 12 points, eight in the fourth, and three assists. DeAndre McCain scored 10 points and made two steals. Stewart had nine points. Donavon McCain tallied seven points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Landers ended with six points and seven boards. Savage had four points. Gilbert and Alex Davis each scored two points. Gilbert added five rebounds and Davis had three boards.
Jacksonville opened the tournament with a 51-39 win over Glencoe on Wednesday. The Eagles led in rebounds 48-28. Their 23 offensive rebounds produced a 17-5 advantage in second-chance points. Ten players scored, led by Landers with 12 points. Macey Carr scored eight points. Donavon McCain and and DeAndre McCain each had seven points. Davis, Gilbert and Wiggins had four points apiece. Stewart netted his only shot of the game for three points and Savage scored two points. Carr, Gilbert and Donavon McCain each had seven rebounds.
“I think we’ve got some of the best depth around,” Hunt said. “I can turn around and I feel like any guy on the bench I could put in – any of them. I trust all of them that much.”
At Saks on Dec. 18, Jacksonville rallied to down the Wildcats 67-66. The Eagles outscored their hosts 25-16 in the fourth quarter to overcome a 50-42 deficit. DeAndre McCain scored 21 points. Donavon McCain had a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds. Carr scored 11 points. Gilbert had eight points and five boards. Davis scored six points and added four rebounds and two assists. Landers had four points, five rebounds and three assists. Savage and Stewart each had two points and Wiggins scored one point.
Jacksonville was to play Alexandria in Friday’s late semifinal game. Saks and Etowah met in the other semifinal contest. The championship game is Saturday at 7:30 p.m.