Jacksonville’s “whole team effort” approach to the current basketball season continued to pay dividends in the Champions Sports Academy Christmas tournament. The Golden Eagles defeated Saks 59-51 on Dec. 23 to earn third place in the tournament. It was the second win over Saks in a week for head coach Cordell Hunt’s Eagles. Jacksonville had rallied in the fourth quarter and beaten the Wildcats 67-66 at Saks on Dec. 18.

“I think beating Saks twice in one week is really big. It was really good for our confidence, really good for our confidence, but I think I’ve got a group that is mature enough to know that if we don’t play in any given game we can get beat by anybody,” Hunt said Friday, prior to Jacksonville’s game at Jacksonville Christian.  

In the game on Dec. 23, Jacksonville held a 35-33 lead after three quarters on the strength of two late free throws by Carter Landers. The Eagles opened the fourth quarter with a 3-point basket by DeMarien Stewart from the left corner, a basket on a left-handed drive by Alex Gilbert and a bucket by DeAndre McCain. With 3:53 to play, Stewart connected on another 3-pointer from the corner and Jacksonville led by 10 points at 49-39. McCain scored on a drive through the lane with 2:19 left and the Eagles had their largest lead of the contest at 52-39. After that, Saks never got closer than six points. Jacksonville improved to 11-3.     

DeAndre McCain, Jacksonville’s representative on the all-tournament team, finished with 13 points. Alex Davis scored 10 points and had three rebounds. Stewart was 3-for-4 at the free throw line in addition to his two treys and scored nine points. He also made three steals. Cade Landers had eight points, five rebounds and four assists. Gilbert contributed six points and five boards. DeDarien Savage recorded five points and four rebounds. Ron Wiggins scored four points. Donavon McCain and Carter Landers each scored two points. McCain also grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.   

In the tournament’s semifinal round on Dec. 22, Alexandria held off a fourth quarter surge by Jacksonville and defeated the Eagles 54-50. Jacksonville trailed 46-34 after three quarters then outscored the Valley Cubs 16-8 in the fourth quarter. Gilbert’s 3-point basket with 1:23 to play cut Alexandria’s lead to 51-48 but that was as close as the Eagles came to a tie. The Cubs got a basket and later added a free throw before Jacksonville’s Savage scored inside on a feed from Stewart with 7.8 seconds to play.

DeAndre McCain led the Eagles with 12 points. Cade Landers scored 10 points. Savage contributed eight points, Gilbert seven, Donavon McCain six, Wiggins four, Davis two and Stewart one.          

Jacksonville plays at Wellborn on Jan. 4 and at Hokes Bluff on Jan. 5 in a Class 4A, Area 12 rematch.