Photo by Heather Middleton
By Brian Paglia
Jonesboro guard Daniel Peace had known for days that he would make his first career state tournament start Saturday in place of injured guard
Cameron Sutton, but the magnitude of that reality had little affect.
The sophomore turned in an impressive performance, which made Jonesboro's convincing 78-36 victory over Greenbrier in the first round of the Class AAAA tournament all that much more enjoyable for the Cardinals.
Jonesboro (26-3), the No. 1 seed from Region 4, advances to the second round to play Thomas County Central, a 55-51 winner over Alcovy, on Wednesday.
When last Jonesboro entered the state tournament in the 2008-09 season, it did so with an experienced and veteran roster, a starting five of seniors with more waiting on the bench to take their turn.
The Cardinals have a veteran presence this season, starting three seniors, including Division I signees Rasham Suarez (Georgia Southern) and James White (Arkansas-Little Rock), but they also rely heavily on a group of eight sophomores.
Peace often spent the season as the second or third player to come off the bench, but since Sutton, another sophomore, went down with a sprained knee in the Region 4-AAAA tournament, Cardinals coach Dan
Maehlman called on Peace to replace him.
Sharing time with Suarez at point guard, Peace kept Jonesboro's offense running smooth. He had 11 points and five assists, highlighted by a sequence late in the third quarter in which he found Suarez open for 3s on back-to-back possessions to build a 54-24 lead.
"I had to step up and play big for Cameron," Peace said. "I did my best to run the team, manage the game and come out with a win."
"Daniel stepped up real big for us with Cameron going down," said Suarez, who filled the stat sheet with 23 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals. "I think that's the big reason we won."
Peace and Jonesboro were strong from the start. When Peace made a steal at the top of the key and went coast-to-coast for a lay-up, the Cardinals led 11-0 and Greenbrier (19-11) needed a timeout.
Peace added a short jumper at the end of the quarter to push Jonesboro's lead to 20-4.
"Ever since Cameron went down with his injury ... Daniel has played like a veteran, and in big games," Maehlman said. "I told them that's what a team sport is all about, having a kid come off the bench like that.
"I couldn't say enough about what he's done the last three games. He's kept that nucleus together, and it's because he's got a great attitude."
Jonesboro buit a 38-15 halftime lead with a threatrical array of dunks and alley-oops from James White (11 points, eight rebounds, four blocks), no-look passes from Suarez and frenetic defense.
Chad Waddell came into the game averaging a team-high 17 points per game for Greenbrier. Waddell had just two points at halftime and no field-goals. He finished with just four points.
So thorough was Jonesboro's win that it led in nearly every statistical category. The Cardinals out-rebounded Greenbrier, 35-17, made 10 steals and shot 82.6 percent (19-for-23) from the free-throw line.
Coming off a 51-36 victory over eighth-ranked Lovejoy in the region championship, Maehlman called Saturday's game the Cardinals' second straight "complete game."
"The right time to peak is right now," Maehlman said. "We're not there 100 percent, but I think we're definitely going in the right direction."