Unbeaten Jackson faces big challenge in Bluff

Friday, January 7, 2005

Jackson's boys basketball team is undefeated through 13 games this season and is on pace to make a run at the team's top win total of 26 set in 1992.

Despite their success, the Indians enter tonight's game against University of North Carolina recruit Tyler Hansbrough and the defending Class 5 state champion Poplar Bluff Mules as heavy underdogs. This will be the first meeting between the teams since Poplar Bluff defeated Jackson in the district finals last season.

Jackson coach Darrin Scott said he is not surprised by his team's underdog status.

"I think it's expected for us to be underdogs," he said. "They're defending Class 5 champs. They have two losses, but both losses have come to great teams."

The varsity game will tip off at approximately 7:30 p.m., with the doors opening at 5 p.m. for the junior-varsity game. Poplar Bluff enters the game ranked No. 2 in the Class 5 state poll, while Jackson has climbed to No. 5.

This will be the first chance for many area fans to see Hansbrough, a 6-foot-9 senior who is perhaps the most highly recruited high school athlete to ever come out of Southeast Missouri. Hansbrough, averaging 29.8 points a game, has been rated as high as No. 1 nationally among high school basketball players this season.

Scott said he anticipates a large crowd, especially since there is such an interest in Hansbrough.

"We're hoping our fans get here early and get their seats. We definitely still want it to be a home-court advantage," he said.

Attempting to even slow down Hansbrough will be a tall task for the Indians' big men. Even with the luxury of having two players standing 6-foot-8 or taller, Jackson likely will have trouble containing Hansbrough.

Scott said this should be a good opportunity for senior Ryan Mirly (6-8) and junior Aaron Redecker (6-10) to see how they fare against one of the top big men in the country.

"Either way, it will be a good test for our post players," he said.

Even if Jackson can slow down Tyler Hansbrough, the Mules have another dangerous Hansbrough roaming the perimeter. Ben Hansbrough, a 6-4 junior guard, can bury a team from outside. Like the Indians, Poplar Bluff also has another big man in the starting lineup, with 6-9 Ross Whelan. Brad Chronister also adds a strong presence from the perimeter.

Jackson has a big-time player of its own. Senior guard Jack Puisis has averaged more than 20 points a game this season, and has scored in double figures in all 13 games.

With the clutch play of Puisis, along with a bevy of sharp-shooting guards, the Indians have plenty of weapons to call on.

"No matter who we're playing, if we can get to the end of the game and have a close game, we feel like we can win," Scott said. "We've got a bunch of different kids who've made big shots at times."

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