By Derrick Mahone
Forest Park coach Antonio Wade had no complaints after his team's 50-39 loss at No. 10 Jonesboro Friday in a Region 4-AAAA contest.
For the first 28 minutes, Forest Park was able to control the tempo and keep the crowd out of the game and Cardinals out of the game.
But with four minutes remaining, senior guard Rasham Suarez was able to help light a fire under the Cardinals, who played the majority of the without much intensity.
"We had our chances, but our problem of shooting free throws hurt us again," said Wade, whose team was only 3 of 16 from the free throw line.
"Our guys executed our gameplan, but free throws killed us," he said. "We had some turnovers at the wrong times, but this is the sixth game this season that free throws were a big problem."
Jonesboro forward James White tied the game at 39-39 with 3:42 remaining with a follow-up layup. Suarez hit a 3-pointer with 2:26 left as the Cardinals took a 42-39 lead.
From there, the Cardinals took control of the game.
"In the last four minutes we decided to play basketball," Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman said. "We were really dead for the first 28 minutes. We didn't play with a whole lot of intensity. It was ugly."
At the five-minute mark, Maehlman called a timeout and challenged his team to play harder.
In the last four minutes, Jonesboro outscored the Panthers 11-0 and forced three turnovers to close out the game strong.
Suarez went scoreless for the first three quarters, but scored five of the team's last 11 points to help seal the win.
With the win, the Cardinals improved to 14-3 overall and 8-2 in the region as Forest Park fell to 7-9 and 3-7 as Jonesboro swept the season series.
Maehlman is confident that his team would play with more intensity in Tuesday's rematch with North Clayton, which won 79-78 behind Marcus Hunt's 47 points.
"We had low intensity tonight, but Tuesday we will be ready," said White, who finished with a team-high 15 points.
Patrick Petty added 12 points and Cameron Sutton had 10 points.
"It just wasn't our offensive night," Maehlman said. "I think our kids sort of underestimated Forest Park. They played hard, and we were not ready to play."
Forest Park 50, Jonesboro 24: The tenth-ranked Panthers won their 11th straight regular season game against in-state competition with the region win.
Forest Park, which improved to 12-5 and 10-0, received some balance scoring as Keyonna Allen and Kierra Dennis each scored nine points. Allen also had six rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots.
The Panthers have won five straight games since returning from the Christmas break. It was the fourth time in the last five games that Forest Park has held its opponent to under 30 points.
"I tell the girls all the time that you never have an off night defensively," Forest Park coach Steven Cole said.
Forest Park jumped to a 19-2, but Jonesboro fought it way back into the game.
The Cardinals first two points of the game came on free throws as they trailed 13-2 after the first quarter. Jonesboro didn't get its first field goal until the 5:55 mark of the second quarter when Ashley Hand got a steal and converted a layup as the Cardinals trailed 21-4.
Cardinals coach Michael House was happy to see a better effort from his team after an 82-28 loss to Forest Park back on Dec. 3 on the road.
"Our players have done a lot of growing since that first meeting," House said. "I think we are starting to hit that turning points. We look like we are headed in the right direction."