Photo by Heather Middleton
By Derrick Mahone
DULUTH -- In the beginning, Jonesboro's enthusiasm and excitement carried them within striking distance of the two-time defending Class AAAA state champion Miller Grove. In the end, it was Miller Grove's experience and familiarity to pressure situations they prevailed.
For three and half quarters, Jonesboro stood toe-to-toe with the nationally-ranked Wolverines, but a barrage of turnovers was too much to overcome in a 65-52 loss Wednesday in the semifinals here at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. The Cardinals (28-4) committed 24 turnovers in the game.
"We had way too many turnovers against a good team like that," said Jonesboro senior Jordan Enadeghe, who led the fifth-ranked Cardinals with 13 points and seven rebounds. "Turnovers is what killed us. We you are playing the No. 12 team in the country, you can't do that."
Miller Grove coach Sharman White wasn't pleased with his team's effort, but is happy about the outcome to play for another state title. The Wolverines, who was playing without second leading scorer Henry Brooks, got 19 points from junior standout Tony Parker.
Brandon Morris and Thomas Marshall finished with 10 points each for the Wolverines, who enter Friday's championship game with a 31-1 record.
The team's only loss this season was to Southwest DeKalb in the Region 6-AAAA championship game. "We didn't play our A-game, but Jonesboro had something to do with that," White said. "You can tell they are a good team that is well coached. We had a slow start, and missed a lot of easy shot. We weren't playing as good defensively as I would have liked. In the fourth quarter, we tighten it up."
The Cardinals, who saw their 16-game win streak snapped, trailed 49-46 with a little under four minutes remaining, but couldn't get any closer. Miller Grove's defensive pressure forced the Cardinals into several late-game turnover that were too much to overcome. Jonesboro led a great deal of the first half, but the Wolverines took a 29-25 lead into the intermission. Miller Grove would retain the lead throughout the second half.
The Wolverines hit 8 of 13 free throws in the fourth quarter to pad their lead. White said he expected nothing less than a battle from Jonesboro. The two teams played in Region 5-AAAA during the 2005-06 season, which the teams split their two-game series.
"I knew the caliber of team that Jonesboro was, and I expected them to give us a very good effort," White said.
"This was a great game. Everytime I thought we would pull away, they would hit some big shots, but in the end I thought our experience of being battle-tested was the difference. We have been in those situations before, and our guys were able to pull it together."
In the end, Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman was pleased at the effort his team gave. The Cardinals will graduate three starters, while returning eight sophomores.
"Defensively, I thought we did a great job," Maehlman said. "We played hard. We had the perfect gameplan, and we executed it to the 'T', but we had too many turnovers." With the large majority of the team returning, Maehlman and his players believe the Cardinals will be strong next season.
"We plan on being back," sophomore guard Daniel Peace said. "I'm proud of the way the entire team play," Jonesboro senior James White said. "We brought it too them, but we could have done better. The guys that are returning will make it here again."