By Brian Paglia
Each improbable comeback by Jonesboro this season had begun just like Wednesday night's did; first gradually, the crowd unable to detect what they were watching, then swiftly and furiously in a crescendo of momentum.
It was such a moment with 5:07 left in the game, when Jesse Gardner's three-point play on a transition layup brought the Cardinals within two. One quarter before, Jonesboro had trailed by 14. Now, Glynn Academy needed a timeout, Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman removed his blazer for the first time all night and the crowd burst with noise.
Why the Cardinals couldn't make this comeback materialize was hard to explain after Jonesboro's 51-44 loss to Glynn Academy in the second round of the GHSA state tournament. A lack of concentration, hussle and execution was the refrain from the Cardinals, who lost at home for just the third time in three years.
"We didn't come ready to play tonight," Jonesboro guard Stanley Clark said. "That's the bottom line. We didn't come ready to play. We didn't make free throws. We didn't take charges. We didn't do all the stuff that got us here. We tried to comeback, but it was too little, too late."
Jonesboro (19-11) had forged an identity this season through its grittiness. Through 19 games decided by 10 points or less and three overtime games, the Cardinals endured every circumstance with surprising aplomb for a group that returned just two players with significant varsity experience. They embraced an us-against-the-world mentality, letting any slight, real or not, fuel them.
So despite a 33-19 deficit in the third quarter, even though Jonesboro's shots had not fallen and there had been little evidence it could thwart Glynn Academy (19-11), the Cardinals plodded nonetheless. Gardner's layup capped a 15-3 run by Jonesboro, and it stuck with the Terrors for a two-minute period.
But after Martise Meadows (10 points) hit a tough layup to make it 40-36, Glynn Academy converted enough free throws in the double bonus down the stretch.
"Even though we got it to two, I don't even know what happened the last couple of possessions, but we just didn't have some things go our way," Maehlman said. "We didn't hit a couple of shots, didn't pick up the loose ball and that's basically the story of that game. I don't think Glynn Academy is a better team than us....But they did out-play us."
Jonesboro dealt again with a formidable backcourt, though one in stark contrast to the one it encountered against Evans in the first round. Glynn Academy's balanced bulk with athleticism. Either Marquise Cuyler (19 points) would knife into the lane for offensive rebounds and putbacks, or 6-foot-7, 245-pound center Thomas Vonashek (10 ints, 10 rebounds) would bully for defensive rebounds.
Defensively, Jonesboro struggled against Vonashek, who positioned himself most of the night at the top of the lane where he disrupted Jonesboro's vision and made astute passes.
And at the other end, the Cardinals forced errant shots, unable to attack Glynn Academy's sagging 2-3 zone defense, leading to the Terrors' 21-11 halftime lead.
"At the beginning of the game, we didn't do what we were supposed to do," Meadows said. "We tried to make up for it in the second half, but it just didn't come out like that. Not enough time."
Though Jonesboro had defied time all season, with buzzer-beating 3s and last-minute theatrical comebacks, they spent most of the final minute walking sullenly down the court to the foul line, watching its season dissipate with every Glynn Academy free throw.
The somber mood then spread to the locker room, a place that had been rambunctious so many times before.
"I'm extremely proud of them," Maehlman said. "All these kids out here. I got some six or seven football players, three of four baseball players, a couple soccer players. And I'm proud of them to death. They worked their tails off all year long, defying all kinds of odds about what people said they couldn't do."