Photo by Jerry Jackson
Jonesboro point guard Daniel Peace and North Clayton’s Dennis Johnson battled up and down the court Friday, and though Johnson outscored Peace 11-9, Peace’s Cardinals won the game by three.
Chukedubem Okeke hasn’t been playing basketball very long, but he understood clearly what being yanked during the fourth quarter of Friday night’s game against visiting North Clayton meant.
Okeke had just watched Devin Lewis beat him to three straight rebounds on one possession before North Clayton’s “Tank” finally put the ball in the basket. That meant a quick — and what appeared permanent — seat on Dan Maehlman’s bench for “Duby,” who didn’t dare raise his gaze to meet the Jonesboro coach’s icy glare.
But Maehlman’s assistants went to work, patching up the 6-foot-8 center’s confidence enough so that he asked back in the game. And when he got there, despite scoring only one point all night, he made the difference in a battle between fierce county rivals and top-10 teams in the prepcountry.com poll.
Okeke blocked North Clayton star Marcus Hunt’s shot in the lane with 1:37 left — in the middle of a six-point run in which the ninth-ranked Cardinals took the lead for good on the way to a 51-48 victory over the fifth-ranked Eagles.
“That was a huge block,” Maehlman said.
After Okeke was pulled, Maehlman said, “He was distraught, but my assistant coaches did a great job building him up, letting him know, ‘We need you for us to win this game.’ I just wanted him to say he wanted to go back in the game and as soon as he did that, he went in there and got the block.”
At the end of that block, Patrick Petty capped the 6-0 run with the last of his 23 points, putting Jonesboro (10-3, 7-1 in Region 4-AAAA) ahead 48-45.
Petty had gotten the Cardinals off to a 20-6 advantage after one quarter thanks to three 3-pointers. And after the Eagles (8-4, 6-1) had erased that and built their biggest lead, at 34-28 midway through the third quarter, Petty scored 12 points returning the Cardinals to the lead.
“I wouldn’t say he’s my go-to guy, but he is our most consistent scorer,” Maehlman said.
Hunt, the 6-6 North Clayton forward who has committed to Georgia Tech, experienced both his career-high (47 points) and his season-low (nine) in the series last year. He was held to a modest 12, though Maehlman said the Cardinals didn’t modify their defense on his account.
Dennis Johnson added 11 for the Eagles, but North Clayton coach Martisse Troup said his team “missed too many shots and we were not making our free throws. We didn’t play North Clayton basketball in the first half.”
After making 8 of 11 shots from the line, the Eagles made only 9 of their last 17, including a 2-of-6 stretch in which allowed Jonesboro to pull even at the end of the third quarter, tied 36-36.
The Cardinals survived, despite missing two flurries of easy shots near the rim.
“Offensively, we struggle at times,” Maehlman said. “We lost 95 percent of our offense with the two Division I kids we lost (James White and Rasham Suarez) from last year’s team. Now I have basketball/football players and basketball/baseball players and I’m asking them to block out, defend and do everything ...
“It’s huge. Who cares about proving anything to anybody else? We proved to ourselves that we can strap it on and play with the best. We competed all night long. We struggled but we never backed down.”