By KEVIN HARRIS
If there is one place that has haunted the Jeffersonville Red Devils during the 21st century, it has been BNL Fieldhouse.
Entering Friday night’s Hoosier Hills Conference game, Jeff had not won at Bedford North Lawrence since 2001, losing five in a row at the arena.
But the Red Devils put a convincing end to the BNL jinx with a 64-35 win over the host Stars on Friday. It was Jeff’s biggest victory over Bedford since it defeated the Stars 99-64 in the 1970-71 season.
Along with finally getting a victory at BNL Fieldhouse, first-place Jeff improved to 6-0 in the HHC and needs a home win on Thursday, Feb. 7 against Jennings County (4-0 HHC) to repeat as outright conference champions. If the Red Devils (13-2) beat the Panthers in 12 days, it will be the first time in Jeff history that it has gone undefeated in HHC play in back-to-back seasons.
“It feels good coming in here and getting the ‘W,’” Red Devil junior guard Drew Ellis said. “It’s definitely a good win. Now, we want to come out against Jennings County and go undefeated [in the HHC].”
It was Ellis’ contributions that enabled Jeff to remain atop the HHC standings.
He scored a game- and career-high 22 points and completed the double-double with a game-high 10 rebounds. Ellis also recorded game-highs in assists (three) and steals (two).
The 6-foot-1 guard shot 8-of-16 from the field and 2-of-7 from 3-point range along with converting all four of his free throws.
Ellis gave a lot of credit to his teammates for putting him in position to knock down shots throughout the contest.
“It was more my teammates than myself,” Ellis said. “We were all being very unselfish. That’s what [Jeff coach Chad] Gilbert talks about a lot — being unselfish, distributing the ball and executing our stuff.”
Ellis’ performance against the Stars was another prime example of why he has been one of the Red Devils’ go-to guys this season.
“He’s a year more mature,” Gilbert said. “He’s not just a shooter. Last year, he was more of a catch-and-shoot guy. This year Drew, can put it on the floor, post up inside and get to the free-throw line. Our quickness and our unselfishness allow us to get great shots at the basket.”
Another key factor in the Red Devils’ triumph was their defense. Jeff held Bedford to a season-low point total. In fact, it was the fewest points the Stars have registered in the series since a 26-24 setback in the 1945-46 campaign.
Bedford shot only 9-of-34 from the field (26.5 percent), including 3-of-15 in the second half. The Stars committed 18 turnovers as Jeff forced several of them with their full-court pressure.
“We wanted to take some pride in our defense,” Gilbert said. “We wanted to sit down on those guys and not let them get good shots. We had to try to mix up our switching. I thought we got them out of their comfort zone.”
The Red Devils were only following orders as Gilbert demanded them to keep the intensity up on the defensive end.
“Coach Gilbert talked to us in the locker room at halftime and talked to us on the bench, saying, ‘Hold them to 40,’” Ellis said. “That’s what we went out and tried to do. We played great defense and we got the job done.”
Jeff senior Darryl Baker continued his season-long scoring surge. The standout guard tallied 18 points with 16 coming in the first half. Baker shot 8-of-17 from the floor. He also grabbed six boards. Teammate Keenan Williams had six points and five rebounds.
Junior Morgan Cummings was the lone Star to score in double digits with 10 points. Teammate Jackson Ryan had eight.
Jeff will host Evansville Reitz (9-5) next Friday.