By Brian Paglia
The primary concern for Jonesboro coming into Tuesday night's game at Stockbridge was the Tigers' state of affairs. One month ago, Jonesboro dealt Stockridge a humbling loss, and the Tigers have appeared to be in a free-fall ever since, losing six of their next seven games.
Ever mindful of Stockbridge's desperate situation, having fallen from the peak of the region standings back down to the scrambling masses, and sure the Tigers would be eager for revenge, Jonesboro held steady for a 63-59 region win on the road.
"I knew from coming in here last year it would be a very intense game," Jonesboro senior guard Jesse Gardner said. "Even though a lot of people weren't here, they were going to come ready to play. It was going to be a struggle to come over here."
"We knew they were coming with a set mind that they were going to beat us," Jonesboro junior guard Rasham Suarez said.
Suarez delivered the virtuoso performance of the night, scoring 21 points and hitting a tough driving jumpshot off the glass and a wide open transition layup that gave Jonesboro (13-9, 10-4 Region 4-AAAA) the lead for good in the fourth quarter at 53-49.
Gardner hit several free throws in the game's waning moments and finished with 10 points. Cardinals junior forward Myron Sallie provided a boost in the post with 13 points.
Thus Jonesboro avoided the let-down, which it was susceptible to after a lopsided 57-42 victory over Stockbridge (13-10, 8-7) on Jan. 5. Jonesboro earned that victory on defense, specifically due to a concentrated effort to disrupt Stockbridge star guard Chris Davis. He finished with just seven points that night.
The nature of Tuesday's game -- with eight ties and seven lead changes -- could be explained partly by Davis' effectiveness early on. He scored seven points in the first quarter alone and 14 by halftime. But in the second half, Jonesboro freshmen Cameron Sutton and Patrick Petty took turns harassing the reigning Henry County player of the year. Their effort held Davis (21 points) to just one field goal in the second half.
"He's a good player," Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman said. "Cameron, he's a ninth grader guarding him. You bring another ninth grader in when he's tired to guard him again in Patrick Petty, so, yeah, they did a good job. I'm happy with that."
Without Davis' scoring presence in the second half, Adonis Durden emerged. The diminuitive point guard scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half.
He gave Stockbridge the lead with a 3 to make it 39-36 in the third quarter. After Suarez gave Jonesboro a 53-49 lead, Durden asserted himself, getting fouled on a tough driving layup and hitting the free throw to cut the lead to 53-52 with 2:55 left.
But as has been Stockbridge's tendency during its late-season swoon, the Tigers committed turnovers -- twice with under a minute left and the game still well within their grasp.
Jonesboro girls 40, Stockbridge 34
With both teams mired in their longest losing streaks of the season coming into the game, someone was going to get back on track Tuesday night.
Despite scoring just three points in the third quarter, Jonesboro held on for a region win to break its six-game losing streak and win for the first time since Jan. 15.
Jasmine Manning led the Lady Cardinals (7-13, 4-8) with a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Kierra Dennis, La'Kiesha Anderson and Victoria Florence each scored six points.
Khadija Gadis led a Lady Tigers' late charge with nine points, all on 3-pointers, but Stockbridge (7-15, 5-10) was undone by its 26 turnovers, a product of Jonesboro's early success in a full-court pressure defense that resembled its identity a year ago when it was a Final Four team.