By Derrick Mahone
Marcus Hunt refused to let North Clayton lose on Friday. The 6-foot-5 junior showed why he is one of the top-rated underclassmen in the nation as he scored a career-high 47 points to lead the Eagles to a 79-78 upset over No. 7 Jonesboro in a Region 4-AAAA contest.
Hunt had 24 fourth-quarter points, including four free throws in the final 45 seconds to help the Eagles in the comeback win. However, it was guard Owen Lewis that hit the biggest shot of the game for North Clayton.
The freshman made a follow-up layup on a miss jumper by Hunt with three seconds remaining to give the Eagles a 79-78 lead. Jonesboro had three shots at the basket, but couldn't get a shot to fall.
"I had to pick the team up, we were down and someone had to step up to the plate," Hunt said. "We came out real flat for some reason."
Jonesboro jumped to a 12-0 lead in the first 4:40 of the game and when on to lead 48-32 at the intermission. It wasn't until a pair of free throws with 4:40 remaining in the first quarter by Hunt that the Eagles got on the score board. He hit a 3-pointer with 4:08 to give the team its first field goal as they trailed 12-5.
North Clayton would play with a little more urgency in the second half. As Jonesboro built its lead, the mostly crowded gymnasium was quiet, until Hunt erupted in the fourth quarter.
"I told the guys at halftime that we were not meeting our defensive goals," North Clayton coach Martisse Troup said. "I just told them to keep playing hard. Marcus really stepped it up. In fact, our whole team played better in the second half. We just fought through the adversity."
None was a bigger example than Lewis.
With the Eagles leading 77-76 with 32 second remaining, Lewis missed a pair of free throws. Jonesboro would retake the lead when Patrick Petty made two free throws to give the Cardinals a 78-77 lead with 32 seconds remaining.
Hunt appeared as if he would give the Eagles the lead again, but missed on a short jumper in the lane. Lewis got the rebound over two Jonesboro defenders and made the follow-up layup for the lead.
"I owed it to my teammates for missing that free throw," Lewis said. "I was very determined to get the ball. I got it and switched the ball in my other hand and made it."
Hunt said he wasn't worried about the missed shot because he felt his teammates would respond.
"I got a lot of faith in these guys," Hunt said. "I trust them all."
Jonesboro star step up also with Rasham Suarez, a Georgia Southern signee, scoring a team-high 31 points. He had 18 in the first half and finished the game with six 3-pointers. Cardinals center James White finished with 15 points and Jordan Enadegh had 12 points.
The only other North Clayton player to score in double figures was Devin Lewis, who had 10 points.
North Clayton (girls) 57, Jonesboro 55: Alexia Cross had 20 points and Miranda Cantrell had 13 to give the eighth-ranked Eagles the win.
The Eagles made three of four free throws in the last 26 seconds of the game for the win. With the win, North Clayton improves to 10-1 overall and 8-0 in the region.
Ashley Hand had 21 points to lead Jonesboro (7-5, 5-3).