By KEVIN HARRIS
For the last four seasons, Jeffersonville boys’ basketball fans have been waiting for much-heralded guard Darryl Baker to have a breakout performance.
On Saturday night at Evansville Bosse High School, it finally happened.
The senior scored a career-high 38 points to lead the Red Devils to a 65-64 victory over Class 3A No. 2 Bosse in the season opener for both teams.
“Darryl is a great player and he made some great plays at the end,” Jeff coach Chad Gilbert said.
Baker was the go-to guy in the final 30 seconds of the contest, hitting two clutch shots to help Jeff knock off the Bulldogs.
With Bosse up 62-61 with about 30 ticks remaining, Baker got the ball on the right block, turned around and knocked down a baseline jumper over Bosse junior standout JaQuan Lyle to give the Red Devils a 63-62 lead.
Lyle answered with 10.3 seconds left. After a scramble on the floor for a loose ball, Lyle came up with it and hit a shot in the lane to put the Bulldogs back up one at 64-63.
But Baker had the last laugh.
With 2.2 seconds remaining, Baker hit a runner in the lane to give Jeff a one-point advantage. Lyle received an inbounds baseball pass from teammate Jordan Bailey, but missed a half-court shot at the buzzer to give the Devils the season-opening triumph.
It was a great showdown between two NCAA Division I-caliber players in Baker and Lyle, who both played in front of University of Tennessee men’s basketball coach and former Purdue player Cuonzo Martin. Lyle ended up with 27 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
But Baker did not care about getting into a one-on-one battle with Lyle.
“It really didn’t matter to me. I just wanted to get the win. We wanted to start the year right,” Baker said. “It was very important to get this win. It’s never good to start off the season with a loss.”
For a good portion of the night, Baker drew the defensive assignment on Lyle and did not expend too much energy guarding the 6-foot-5 swingman.
“Coach is the captain of the team and I just do my role,” Baker said about being assigned to Lyle. “JaQuan is a great player, but I controlled him. I didn’t want him to get anything for free.”
Jeff’s offense revolved around Baker. He accounted for 58 percent of the Red Devils’ point total, shooting 18-of-29 from the field and 2-of-7 from 3-point range. Baker scored all of Jeff’s 11 third-quarter points and 23 of the Devils’ 32 second-half points.
Baker made 60 percent of Jeff’s field goals and attempted more than half of the Red Devils’ 57 field-goal attempts. He also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.
“It’s his senior year, so he’s extra motivated every time he hits the court,” Gilbert said. “Tonight was a chance for him to get some extra buckets and he did.”
The only other Red Devil to score in double figures was Drew Ellis. The junior guard tallied 13 points, shooting 5-of-10 from the floor and 2-of-2 from the free-throw line along with five rebounds. Ellis nailed a critical 3-pointer with 1:40 left in regulation to cut Jeff’s deficit to 61-59.
Jeff junior Keenan Williams recorded eight points. Gilbert commended the play of Red Devil reserve player Leonard Kwitonda afterwards.
“I thought Leonard came in and played well. He drew a big charge late in the game for us,” Gilbert said.
Jeff will host Seymour in its Hoosier Hills Conference opener on Friday.