Photo by Heather Middleton
By Derrick Mahone
As Lovejoy coach Rick Francis gave a quick assessment of his team's 72-57 win at North Clayton Friday, he was pleased with the defensive effort and offensive production.
However, Francis wasn't too pleased in one facet of the game.
"Free throw shooting, that is what ticks me off," Francis said. "Free throw shooting was terrible. If we make our free throws, it's no contest."
Francis had good reason to be upset as the fifth-ranked Wildcats were only 17 of 39 on free threw attempts.
"Its been either feast or fathom with us from the free throw line this season," he said. "I'm not concerned because that is a problem we are going to fix. We are going to correct it."
The Wildcats will have a seven-day layoff before their next game, which will be in the semifinals of the Region 4-AAAA tournament. Lovejoy, which finished the regular season at 22-3 overall and 17-1 in the region, earned the long rest after clinching the top seed in the region tournament.
With that top seed comes an automatic berth into the state playoffs.
North Clayton ends it regular season Saturday when the Eagles host rival Riverdale in a crucial region matchup. The Eagles are hoping to hang on to their third place spot with a win.
Lovejoy got big offensive production from sophomore DeAngelo Anthony, who finished with a season-high 18 points to lead two other players in double figures. Sophomore Jumicheal Ramos added 13 and Leroy Merritt had 10.
"I made some shots, and then got on a role," said Anthony, who connected on four 3-pointers. "It was real important to get this win. I'm glad I was able to help my team."
Said Francis: "This is the best game he's had for us. He is just a sophomore. He did a good job of getting it done tonight."
North Clayton (14-10, 10-7) was led by Marcus Hunt, who had 18 points and Devin Lewis came off the bench to add 11, nine coming in the second half.
Francis said he was pleased with the team in helping contain Hunt, who is one of the top juniors in the state.
"We know he is a great player," Francis said. "When you play North Clayton, you have to play Marcus a certain way. You have to make all his looks extremely difficult."
And the Wildcats did. Hunt was limited to only three field goals while making 11 of 16 free throws for his points. He didn't make a field goal in the second half.
As a team, the Eagles only made nine second-half field goals.
Lovejoy jumped to a 19-9 first quarter lead and extended it to 39-20 at the intermission. The only quarter that the Eagles were able to play even with Lovejoy was the third when both teams scored 19 points, but the Wildcats led 58-39 going into the fourth quarter.
Lovejoy players said they will use this win as momentum going into the region tournament. The Wildcats swept the season series against North Clayton, and won 10 of its last 11 games to close the season.
The only defeat during that span was a 48-45 loss to Forest Park.
"This sets up the momentum for us," junior point guard Jermaine Hough said. "We wanted to end the regular season with a bang. We feel real determined going forward into the region tournament. We wanted to bring some fire to the game. We want to win it all."