Photo by Jerry Jackson
Jonesboro junior guard Casey Wells sizes up Griffin defender Anfernee Stroud during the first round of the playoffs. Wells scored seven points, and left the game with a right-knee injury early in the fourth quarter.
Jonesboro’s boys basketball team thought it was having a bad day Friday, as it slogged through a first-round victory over Griffin in the Class AAAA playoffs.
But that day might have gotten exponentially worse early in the fourth quarter when junior guard Casey Wells, whose offense has been carrying the Cardinals lately, crumbled to the hardwood after feeling something pop in his right knee.
Wells was carried off the court. And as the Cardinals were wrapping up a 52-40 win, Wells was on his way to a local hospital for an MRI.
“From what he said, it sounded like he might have hyperextended the knee,” Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman said. “I asked him if it popped and he said it did. Hopefully, it’s good news. Casey’s been huge for us.”
Even while Wells was healthy, he and the Cardinals trudged through an offensive funk most of the game. They got a team-high 13 points and seven blocked shots out of Chukedubem Okeke, feeding the 6-foot-8 junior center on three alley-oop dunks that served as a pressure-release valve against the Bears defense.
That caught Griffin, whose tallest player is 6-foot-4 Kelvin Walden, off-guard.
“He pretty much did what we expected because defensively, he’s a force,” Griffin coach Prelvis Paster said. “But he made one or two moves inside (on offense) that we didn’t anticipate and that hurt us.”
Said Okeke, “I just tried to be more involved offensively. When we go further, I’ve got to step it up.”
Cameron Sutton added 12 points for the Cardinals (24-4), who will advance either to a second-round road game at Brunswick next week or a second-round home game against Hardaway, depending on whichever team prevails today in their first-round contest.
Griffin (10-18) led only twice — 3-2 almost 2 1/2 minutes into the game and 10-9 almost six minutes in. After that, even as sluggish as they looked, it was all Cardinals. Jonesboro scored the next nine points for an 18-10 lead and never led by fewer than four points thereafter.
Walden had 15 points and J.T. Williams added 12 for Griffin (10-18). Williams hit a 3-pointer with 54.5 seconds left that pulled the Bears to within five at 44-39, but they got no closer as Sutton and Cedric Nettles closed out the game by combining to make 6 of 7 free throws.
Nettles started the closing run, making a layup and getting fouled for a potential three-point play. But he contributed the only missed free throw in the final minute, during which Okeke was substituted in every time Jonesboro was on defense.
“I expected us to win the game,” Okeke said. “But we didn’t play up to expectations.”
Said Maehlman, “Mentally, the kids weren’t there tonight. Griffin played hard. I thought my kids would’ve come with a little more energy, but the whole week of practice has been like that. It was the same way in the region tournament the first game back. At this point in the season, you don’t want to play like that. We’re not clicking on all cylinders.”
If Wells’ injury is not serious, it may provide a lift for the Cardinals. He averages more than 28 minutes out of the normal 32, and while Patrick Petty has been fighting his way through a frustrating slump, Wells has emerged as a source of consistent offense.
The initial signs didn’t look promising, as toward the end of the game as a manager scurried down to the Cardinals locker room toting a pair of crutches for Wells.