By Brian Paglia
The way Dan Maehlman went to college to play basketball was by a passion and discipline for performing the mundane and often unappreciated tasks of the game, by setting screens and blocking out on rebounds and drawing charges. They have become tasks he demands from his teams, and the only one this Cardinals team hadn't executed throughout their game Friday night was a charge.
But when it was executed, when Jason Griffin stood under the basket and let Evans forward Tony Davis plow into him on a drive with under a minute left, it propelled Jonesboro. Suddenly, two quick layups and a stifling defensive effort came effortlessly, helping the Cardinals pull away for a 45-38 win over Evans in the first round of the GHSA Class AAAA state basketball tournament.
"Coach (Maehlman) told me they were going to do nothing but penetrate, so I took a chance," Griffin said. "I said let me take this charge for the team. It felt good."
Jonesboro (19-10) faces the winner of Glynn Academy/Upson-Lee at home Tuesday and appears like a tough out in the tournament, an accomplishment in itself for a team that entered this season with significant inexperience to overcome.
"People have been doubting us," Jonesboro guard Stanley Clark said, "saying we couldn't even win the region tournament. Just to make it here to state, we feel better and more confident. And then to win, it feels real good to know we at least have another game and are in the next round."
As has been Jonesboro's habit all season, the Cardinals managed to execute on offense just enough, instead trusting itself on defense to thwart Evans (20-5). No team led by more than eight, and Jonesboro never led by more than six in the fourth quarter.
Jonesboro's main test was how it handled the Knights' size advantage, specifically 6-foot-9 center Jaleel Roberts. It was clear they passed that test as Roberts sat on the bench in the final 13 minutes, handcuffed with four fouls after Antonio Gardner tempted Roberts to leave the court to swat his short jumper. Roberts finished with two points and four rebounds and quickly became barely a footnote in the game.
"We knew that if you pump faked it, he was going to leave the floor," Maehlman said. "I told Antonio and my guys, I said, 'If you're going to try to attack him, don't throw up a little tear-drop. I said go at him, shot-fake, go up and then get him in foul trouble."
Clark scored 10 of his game-high 15 points in the first half, the game's only scorer in double-figures. But Gardner (six points, five rebounds) did his part in working Roberts into foul trouble and Griffin (eight points, seven rebounds) provided the hustle, and spark, to help the Cardinals survive at the end.
· Jonesboro 61, Glenn Hills 44 (Girls): With the Lady Cardinals, how quickly their opponents fall has been inextricably linked to how quickly Jonesboro executes its full-court press.
Once again Friday night, the Lady Cardinals staggered through the opening minutes before its full-court defense wore down the Lady Spartans in Jonesboro's first-round GHSA Class AAAA girls basketball tournament victory.
First-seed Jonesboro (28-1) faces second-seed Brunswick, 57-40 winners over Jones County, at home Tuesday in the second round.
"Everybody's been doubting us the whole season," Jonesboro guard Joi Holyfield said. "I wanted just the whole state to know that we can play, that we're not overrated, and that's why we came out and played like we did tonight."
Jonesboro's dynamic backcourt buoyed the Lady Cardinals, with Holyfield scoring a game-high 26 points and Drameka Griggs finishing with 14. Chanee Key hit several long jumpers to finish with eight points and nine rebounds.
Griggs and Holyfield finally find themselves on the stage where they can make their claim as the best backcourt in the state. They didn't look like it in the game's opening minutes, nor did Jonesboro look like the state-title contender it believes itself to be.
Glenn Hills opened a quick seven-point lead to start the game, prompting Fields to use his first timeout. In that timeout, Fields said he assured the Lady Cardinals that the points would come as long as they adhered to its patented press. After the timeout, Jonesboro went on a 20-3 run.
"It's good when you've got veteran players on the court," Jonesboro coach Jimmy Fields said. "They realized I needed a timeout before I did. But I'm just proud of the way the girls played. They executed down to the wire what we went over in practice."