Jonesboro guard Jesse Gardner couldn't explain why the Cardinals came out in the first half flat in such a big region game against Alcovy Tuesday night.
However, the senior is happy that some of the team's young reserves were able to help them to kick it into gear in the second half. With the Cardinals struggling on the offensive end of the court, Jonesboro got a big defensive boost from the bench.
With freshmen Patrick Petty and Daniel Peace providing a big defensive effort, the Cardinals got a 45-30 Region 4-AAAA win to accomplish its second three-game win streak of the season.
"It was real ugly out there for a half," Gardner said. "Our warm-ups were dead. We were down, and I don't know for what reason. We got a speech at half-time from coach (Daniel) Maehlman, and then the ball started to fall our way."
It was actually the defensive boost from the bench, Petty and Peace in particular, that helped spark a late third quarter comeback. The Cardinals trailed 18-10 at the intermission after only scoring three points in second quarter.
Jonesboro tied the score at 22-22 with 1:31 remaining in the third before taking a 27-22 lead into the final quarter. On four straight possessions in the quarter, the Cardinals forced an Alcovy turnover to take the lead.
"We came out unfocused, especially our main guys," Jonesboro coach Daniel Maehlman said. "We weren't ready to play. It was definitely an accomplishment for this group to win three in a row. We definitely thrive on our defense. We lost some games this year not because the other team was better than us, but we didn't play that great of defense.
"It started to turn around for us tonight when we picked up the defensive intensity. We started diving for loose balls and rebounding."
The win improves Jonesboro to 11-9 overall and 8-4 in the region. With Stockbridge's 63-60 loss to Forest Park Tuesday, the Cardinals, the defending region champions, are now in sole possession of second place in the region.
Rasham Suarez led the Cardinals with 12 points while Martise Meadows added 11. Gardner finished with eight points. Alcovy got a game-high 17 points from Devon Edwards, as the Tigers dropped to 9-10 and 4-7.
"We had to step up our defense in the second half," Suarez said. "It is going to be our defense that wins games for us. We definitely got a big lift from our bench."
Alcovy jumped to a 10-7 lead in the first quarter, and then the game got ugly in the second quarter. A free throw by Eric Holden and a field goal by Petty were the only points the Cardinals could muster in the second quarter.
At one point in the first half, Maehlman called timeout and order a new group of players into the game.
"We got to learn we have to play for the entire 32 minutes to win," Maehlman said. "We can't play a half, and then take a half off. I'm really proud of my bench, because they give us a good pickup. I knew the score would be low because of the way Alcovy plays. We were able to hang in there until everyone got on the same page."
Jonesboro has five more regular season games before heading into the region tournament. This season's regular season champion gets an automatic berth into the state playoffs. The players said winning the region is definitely not out of reach.
"We know we have to win out, and then get some help," Gardner said. "Our focus is to get better and get ready for the region tournament."
Maehlman is just hoping this group will continue to stay focus and come prepared to play every game.
"This is definitely not a polished group," he said. "We have to work a few things out. We just go to learn to constantly play hard. It is definitely a day-to-day process with this group."