Photo by Derrick Mahone
Three-sport star Cameron Sutton is expected to start for Jonesboro tonight against county rival North Clayton.
Marcus Hunt scores a career-high 47 points and North Clayton beats Jonesboro. Hunt scores a season-low nine points and North Clayton loses to Jonesboro.
Can such a compelling boys basketball county rivalry — now featuring two top-10 teams — be boiled down to something so simple?
Probably not. But the teams meet tonight for the first time since those two meetings last season, when the 6-foot-6 Hunt — the reigning Clayton County Player of the Year who is a month from becoming a Georgia Tech signee — seemed to make all the difference between victory and defeat.
“Obviously, we’re going to know where he is all the time, but the other players on his team are very valuable,” Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman said Thursday. “They’re still capable of him scoring nine points and winning. We’re not going to stop him from scoring. We’ll try to contain him and carry out our game plan like we normally do, which is to play defense, block out — the little things you do to win.”
The Eagles rallied from a double-digit deficit to win the first meeting 79-78 on Jan. 7, but what might be overlooked is that the winning points were scored not by Hunt but by a then-freshman not listed on this season’s roster.
The Cardinals avenged that defeat 18 days later, clamping down across the board defensively for a 47-37 victory. The face of that victory was Jordan Enadeghe, who outscored Hunt 11-9 that day, holding the North Clayton star 16 points below his average.
Enadeghe, however, is gone. The Cardinals likely won’t find any one player who will replicate what Enadeghe did, but Maehlman’s OK with that.
“Defensively, if we do what we’re supposed to do, then offensively we’ll get points in transition,” the Jonesboro coach said.
What the Cardinals are seeking is a little more consistency on offense, not just what they generate in transition. Patrick Petty and Chukedubem Okeke — they just call him “Doobie” for short — have been their most reliable weapons.
Jonesboro is coming off its best night offensively, an 81-69 victory over Morrow on Tuesday.
“The other night was our best shooting night of the season — we were shooting well outside, midrange and finishing around the rim,” Maehlman said. “Other nights, we have way more possessions than the other team and the game ends up in the 40s and 50s. It’s not like we’re taking bad shots. It’s a matter of us getting confidence.”
Though Petty and Okeke have been their offensive leaders, the Cardinals have had at least eight players score in double figures at some point this season.
In fact, Maehlman wants his Cardinals to become offensively confident so badly, that he’s forcing himself to be more lenient with his players’ shot selection.
“This is the first time I’ve told guys, ‘If you’re open, let it ride if it’s a good shot,’ ” Maehlman said. “In the past, if a guy was shooting a wide-open shot, I’d be yanking them. Because they’re younger, I’m letting them play through missed shots.”
North Clayton lost two of three against out-of-state competition over the break and this is the Eagles’ first game of the new year. What they were doing against in-state competition seemed all right with coach Martisse Troup.
“We have been playing pretty well lately,” Troup said last week. “Right now, we go about 12 deep on our team. Everybody is coming in and playing their role on the team.”
Maehlman echoed that sentiment.
“When you have a Marcus Hunt, kids sometimes struggle to accept their roles,” Maehlman said. “I’ve coached against him four years now and everybody around him understands their role.”
North Clayton at Jonesboro
Time: 8:30 p.m.
Records/rankings: North Clayton is 8-3 overall and 6-0 in Region 4-AAAA, ranked No. 5 by prepcountry.com, No. 6 by The Associated Press; Jonesboro is 9-3, 6-1 and ranked No. 9 by prepcountry.com.
Probable starters: North Clayton — PG Dionte Agard (6-1, Sr.), SG Stafan Bradley (6-0, Jr.), SF Marcus Hunt (6-6, Sr.), PF Joseph Stevenson (6-5, Sr.), PF Devin Lewis (6-4, Jr.). Jonesboro — PG Daniel Peace (6-0, Jr.), SG Cameron Sutton (6-0, Jr.), SF John Walker (6-0, Jr.), SF Patrick Petty (6-0, Jr.), C Chukedubem Okeke (6-7, Jr.).