Photo by Heather Middleton
Going into the fourth quarter, Jonesboro was holding a comfortable 19-point lead over visiting Thomas County Central Wednesday in the second round of the Class AAAA playoffs.
Just before his team broke from the huddle to play the last eight minutes, Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman instructed his team not to let up.
The fifth-ranked Cardinals got that message. Two minutes into the final period, Jonesboro forced five turnovers, which it converted into points as the Cardinals cruised to a 83-51 win to advance to the quarterfinals.
"I was just telling the kids that this wasn't the time to go through the motions," Maehlman said. "Those last four to five minutes, the whole team contributed. We played all facets of the game and everybody was playing their role."
With the win, the Cardinals will travel to Fort Valley State University to take on Hardaway, a 56-52 winner over North Clayton. The Cardinals (27-3) will take a 16-game winning streak into that 5:30 p.m. matchup on Friday.
"We are progressing," said Jonesboro sophomore Cameron Sutton, who came off the bench to score 11 points. "We are not there yet at 100 percent, but we are very close to it. Everybody on this team contributes. There are no starters, because everyone can play."
With senior guard Rasham Suarez, the two-time region player of the year, struggling in the early part of the game, senior James White set the tone. The 6-foot-8 Arkansas-Little Rock signee had 20 points, including 10 in the first quarter.
White was guarded most of the game University of Georgia football signee Ray Drew, one of the top defensive end prospects in the country.
"As a senior, I knew this was my last home game," White said. "I wanted to help my team and sort of set the tone. We wanted to turn it up for the home crowd."
For the second straight playoff game, sophomore Daniel Peace was a key factor for the Cardinals, who forced 20 turnovers. Peace was inserted into the Jonesboro lineup during the quarterfinals of the region tournament when Sutton sustained a leg injury.
In the team's win over Greenbrier Saturday, Peace had 11 points and five assists.
"Daniel really got the team going," White said.
"The beauty of this team is that no matter if I score two points, four points or 20 points, this team has my back," Suarez said. "We have a lot of weapons on this team."
The Yellow Jackets (15-12) were led Tramell Anderson's 15 points and Drew had 12 points. A second-quarter rally, in which the Yellow Jackets outscored Jonesboro 15-9, pulled them back into the game.
Jonesboro only led 35-26 at the intermission.
Maehlman said he knew Thomas County Central would a challenge because they were very athletic. However, the coach said that film showed no one had really pressed the team.
"We wanted to press them for 32 minutes to see what would happen," Maehlman said. "We knew we would give up some easy buckets, but overall we did a good job. I knew they would be more athletic than our last opponent, because they have such a good football tradition."
With such a quick turnaround to get ready for the quarterfinals, the Cardinals will go through a light workout today. This will be the Cardinals first appearance in the quarterfinals since back-to-back trips in 2007 and ‘08. Jonesboro will be trying to get back to the semifinals for the first time since finishing runner-up to Wheeler in 2003.
"I glad to see this team accomplish a lot," Maehlman said. "I told them that we have three games left. We are 32 minutes from going to the final four."