By Derrick Mahone
As North Clayton guard Zach Bradley walked to the Eagles' bench late in the second half Friday at Ola, he told his team that it was the "best man-to-man defense" they had played all season.
Bradley, a Clayton State signee, wouldn't get any argument from his teammates or Ola. The Eagle's suffocating defense limited Ola to only eight second-half field goals in a 68-50 win to extend its win streak to eight games.
A switch from its first half zone to man-to-man was too much for the Mustangs to overcome. With its defense playing to near perfection, North Clayton inside players Marcus Hunt and Torin Box had their way in the paint in the Region 4-AAAA contest.
Hunt, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, scored a game-high 19 points while Box, a 6-4, 280-pound senior, added 13.
"We had a big height advantage on them and our guards just kept looking for us," Hunt said. "We told them before the game that we should be able to score inside. Torin and I were able to finish well tonight."
The Eagles hit some timely jumpshot, but it was Hunt and Box, a standout football player, who dominated in the paint.
"They are way quicker than us, and they played good team basketball," Ola coach Curt Miller said. "We didn't play good team defense."
Ola made it interesting for the first half with its 3-point scoring, but North Clayton made the halftime adjustment to play man-to-man instead of sitting back in its zone. Ola hit four first-half 3-pointers as it only trailed 32-28 at the intermission.
Hunt scored seven of the team's 17 third quarter points give North Clayton a 49-39 lead going into the fourth quarter. It would be much of the same for the Eagles in the final quarter as Box scored six points and Hunt added four.
"We played every type of zone we could in the first half," Miller said. "We just didn't have our minds right tonight."
It was the patience of the North Clayton guards, especially point guard Jimmy Williams and Bradley that helped work the ball inside to the post players. Williams, who was harassed the majority of the game by the Ola student section, finished with seven assist.
Every time Williams had the ball, Ola students would shout "haircut, haircut" in reference to his bushy mohawk hairstyle.
After the game, North Clayton fans said the chant to Williams as he headed to the locker room. He just smiled.
With the win, North Clayton improved to 18-2 overall and 10-2 in the region while Ola dropped t 9-12 and 6-8. North Clayton is scheduled to host third-place Stockbridge Saturday in a game that was postponed earlier this season because of inclement weather.
"We were patience and not settling for the first shot," North Clayton coach Martisse Troup said. "We told our guys before the game that it would be tough with their crowd. If we expect to go far in the playoffs, we are going to have to get use to it. We were able to settling down and play North Clayton basketball."
Bradley would add 12 points while Williams finished with eight points. Thomas Werner and Troy Swamson finished with 11 points each for Ola, which observed Senior Night in its final regular season home game. Werner hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter, but could only manage two fourth-quarter free throws the rest of the way.
"It was just a great defensive effort from the whole team," Bradley said.
North Clayton (girls) 47, Ola 28: Miranda Cantrell had a game-high 14 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Eagles to third fourth straight victory. The junior also had two steals and three block shots.
The Eagles started the new year with five straight losses, but has since turned it around. Jenia Julmiste led Ola with 10 points in her final home game of the season.
North Clayton improved to 9-10 overall and 5-7 in the region heading into its final five regular season game. Ola is now 2-17 and 2-11.
"We are starting to play better as a team," Cantrell said. "We are definitely communicating better on the court, which is helping us out with our defense."
Ola only had two first quarter field goals as it fell behind 14-6 in the quarter. A 10-point fourth quarter was the only time the Mustangs scored in double figures in a quarter.