N.Clayton stifles Lovejoy, causes three-way tie for 4-AAAA lead

Photo by Derrick Mahone
North Clayton coach Martisse Troup says he was pleased with his team's defensive effort in the Eagles' 58-49 win over Lovejoy on Tuesday.

Photo by Derrick Mahone North Clayton coach Martisse Troup says he was pleased with his team's defensive effort in the Eagles' 58-49 win over Lovejoy on Tuesday.

Nobody gets through Region 4-AAAA boys basketball unscathed. North Clayton made sure Lovejoy wouldn’t skate through the season without tasting region defeat Tuesday, and because of it the league awakens to a three-way tie for first place.

Marcus Hunt scored 17 points and Devin Lewis added 14 the blue-collar way, but defense was the deciding factor in North Clayton’s 58-49 victory on the road.

“We met our defensive goal — we kept them under 50,” North Clayton coach Martisse Troup said. “Every time we keep our opponent under 50, we win.”

The Eagles (10-4, 8-1 in the region) made Lovejoy big man Justin Tuoyo a non-factor. Far from fearing the 6-foot-9 shot-blocking senior, the Eagles took it right to him — and fouled him out with 22.8 seconds left.

By then, their defense had left the biggest footprint on the game. Their pressure harassed Lovejoy into numerous turnovers, and the Wildcats’ shot selection suffered as a result. On several of the occasions that the Wildcats got the ball across the halfcourt line, they seemed content to take long shots — if for no other reason than to get the pressure off them quicker.

“We just did not handle their pressure well and we didn’t get the job done today,” Lovejoy coach Rick Francis said. “Secondly, we were taking too many threes. You know the old adage: ‘You live by the three, you die by the three’ — and we weren’t hitting jack. But I’m primarily concerned with our ability to hold on to the rock and make proper decisions under duress.”

The Wildcats (12-4, 8-1) were without Alejandro Bennifield, who is one of their better ball-handlers, but sat out with a sprained ankle. Francis dismissed Bennifield’s absence as a factor.

“The better team won today,” Francis said.

Lovejoy bolted to an early 14-10 lead before the Eagles turned up the heat with their press. Immediately, it produced consecutive steals that led to Hunt layups 11 seconds apart, tying the score.

Though Lovejoy would build a pair of six-point leads after that, neither survived. With their last six-point bulge, the Wildcats went from leading 27-21 to trailing 35-27 — a 14-0 run disguised by the halftime interruption, at which point the score was tied at 27.

Hunt, the 6-6 forward who has committed to Georgia Tech, capped the run on a driving layup with 4:10 left in the third period. Though the Wildcats had gone 5:35 without a point, they still had enough juice to cut the deficit to two with 2:33 left in the period.

That’s when Hunt led another spurt, an 11-2 run, and capped it with another layup to make it 47-36 with 5:50 to play, their biggest lead of the night. Lovejoy got no closer than six the rest of the way.

“We played four quarters of North Clayton basketball tonight,” Troup said. “It’s been a while since we played like this.”

Dionte Agard added 11 points for North Clayton. Widley Guerrier led Lovejoy with 14 points and DeAngelo Anthony added 10.

Tuoyo, committed to Virginia Commonwealth, was held to seven points.

“We couldn’t get him the rock,” Francis said. “But he’s got to demand the rock.”

Francis credited North Clayton with simply playing tougher in the second half.

“I knew it was going to be a tough game, going into it,” the Lovejoy coach said. “It was 27-27, game even, and in the second half, only the strong survive. Unfortunately for us, they were stronger. They executed well, their defense was on point and Hunt’s a tough matchup.”

With Jonesboro edging Riverdale, the Cardinals created a three-way tie at 8-1. The consensus among the leaders is that the race begins now.

Said Francis: “We still control our destiny.”

Said Troup: “Now, it’s time for us to move forward.”