Photo by Derrick Mahone
Jonesboro junior guard Cameron Sutton looks to pass the ball in the first half of the Cardinals’ 45-44 win at Forest Park on Friday in a Region 4-AAAA game.
The Forest Park Panthers may look back on Friday’s game against Jonesboro and see it as a game they should have won.
But after Pat Petty nailed the eventual game-winning shot with 19 seconds left to help ninth-ranked Cardinals escape Forest Park with a thrilling 45-44 victory, Jonesboro will look at its schedule and simply be glad the Panthers won’t show up on it again.
“Coach (Antonio) Wade’s got his team playing better than anybody in our region and in our state right now,” Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman said. “They’re beating and hanging tough with every team they play. They can ball with anybody in this state right now.”
With one second remaining, Forest Park had a shot at notching what would’ve been arguably the biggest win of its season, but sophomore guard Costa Anderson’s 25-footer off an inbound pass sailed about six inches to the right of the rim, causing Maehlman’s young squad to breathe a sigh of relief.
“The biggest thing for us is we are a young team with no seniors who came into an hostile environment like this, and found a way to win,” said Maehlman, who has helped guide the Cardinals to an eight-game winning streak. “Did we play our best ball tonight? No. Did Forest Park have a lot to do with that? Absolutely.”
The Panthers controlled the tempo of the game early, and kept the more athletic Cardinals from running up and down the court in the first quarter. Neither team reached double figures as Jonesboro managed a 9-7 lead going into the second.
Jonesboro’s Chukedubem Okeke infused energy into his team when he skied above several Forest Park defenders and jammed home a rebound, initiating an 8-2 run Cardinal run midway through the second quarter and exciting the crowd in the process.
The Cardinals’ 21-12 halftime lead quickly evaporated as an intensified defensive effort from Forest Park forced Jonesboro into a couple of early turnovers. Lemuel Fuller knocked down five of his 11 points in the first three Panther possessions of the second half to help them cut the Jonesboro lead to four points. But Petty scored nine of his game-high 17 points to help keep the Cardinals on top 34-30, heading into the final — and frenzied — fourth quarter.
Forest Park senior Nicholas Crawford had a hand in the first four points of the fourth quarter, passing to Anderson down low for a bucket and then hitting from short range to tie the score at 34 with just 1:32 left. But Petty immediately broke the tie by sinking a 15-footer that would begin a game of back-and-forth between the two teams.
With 1:27 left in the game, Forest Park gained its first lead when Crawford blocked a Jonesboro player’s shot, took it coast-to-coast and finished off with a beautiful spin move and lay in, just over Okeke’s outstretched hand, putting the Panthers up 43-41. Okeke tied it at 43 with a layup of his own, but the score remained tied when he missed the bonus shot after getting fouled.
Jordan Patton hit one of two from the free-throw line for Forest Park, putting the Panthers up again by a point, 44-43, but also setting the stage for Petty’s eventual game-winning shot.
Okeke, who is playing just his second year of organized basketball, tallied nine points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots — three of which came in the final few seconds, preventing Forest Park from expanding its one-point lead.
The Panthers were led by Patton’s 12 points, and Crawford chipped in with eight as well as dishing out eight assists.
Despite Maehlman’s happiness with his team’s victory, he spoke of no plans to celebrate very long.
“We’re not worried about what happened here tonight once we leave here,” he said. “We’ll talk about it for about 10 seconds and then it’s back to work Monday to find a way to beat North Clayton on Tuesday.”