NORTH CLAYTON WINS

Brian Paglia, bpaglia@news-daily.com

Jonesboro may be the team with the state-ranking and senior Division I prospects, but North Clayton is the team making more progress heading into the second half of the regular season.

North Clayton needed time to develop better chemistry after suffering heavy losses to graduation. The Eagles put together strong performances at two holiday tournaments with impressive wins against Westover, Mays and Hillgrove -- just what they needed after an inconsistent first-half.

Now, the pieces are fitting together. Senior guard Lexus Hill is a lock-down defender. Michael Johnson and Roman Woodburn provide depth inside. Sophomore guard Devin Lewis is emerging as another scorer. And reinforcements arrived in 6-foot-9 sophomore center Asia Tyler and freshman guard Owen Lewis from the junior varsity team.

"At first we didn't really know each other. We didn't have chemistry," junior Marcus Hunt said. "But going on the road, we actually bonded. We were at the same hotel playing video games, chilling, relaxing, and then we went on the court and just played. So (the holiday tournaments) really helped."

But the biggest problem facing Jonesboro is guarding Eagles junior Marcus Hunt, who is playing at perhaps the highest level of his high school career. He's been the MVP of two holiday tournaments and a reliable double-double every night.

The Cardinals don't have one player that can guard Hunt. Georgia Southern signee Rasham Suarez is almost six inches smaller. Arkansas-Little Rock signee James White is a couple steps slower. Expect Hunt to exploit those mismatches and give Jonesboro fits all night.

JONESBORO WINS

Derrick Mahone, dmahone@news-daily.com

On paper, it appears that No. 7 Jonesboro would be the hands-on favorite to win Friday's Region 4-AAAA contest.

The Cardinals have Division prospects in James White and Rasham Suarez, the reigning region player of the year. To North Clayton's advantage, the Eagles will be at home.

However, the overall talent of Jonesboro should prevail in this long awaited showdown.

Jonesboro coach Dan Maelhman has said that his team has yet to play a full complete game, but they are still 12-2 and in second place in the region standings.

White and Suarez have provided the offensive scoring punch. In addition, the 6-foot-8 White has been huge on the defensive end of the floor with his shot-blocking and rebounding

ability.

North Clayton will counter with the big-time scoring punch of Marcus Hunt, one of the top rated juniors in the country. However, he will not be able to do it alone against a deep Jonesboro squad.

Look for the Cardinals to assign sophomore Cameron Sutton to the choice of stopping, or at least slowing Hunt down. Maehlman will probably employ the same game plan that work wonderfully last season when Sutton, with the help of teammates, slowed former Stockbridge standout Chris Davis down in Jonesboro win during the regular season.

Look for a tough physical game, which the Cardinals shoulds prevail.