Jonesboro hits the floor to sweep North Clayton

Photo by Jerry Jackson
Jonesboro’s Casey Wells drives to the basket against North Clayton’s Dionte Agard (3). Wells had 14 points as the Cardinals swept the season series from North Clayton.

Photo by Jerry Jackson Jonesboro’s Casey Wells drives to the basket against North Clayton’s Dionte Agard (3). Wells had 14 points as the Cardinals swept the season series from North Clayton.

Sometimes, the way up is down.

Jonesboro encountered a North Clayton team minus its star, Marcus Hunt. The Eagles were supposed to be the team looking for a spark, and yet for the better part of three quarters, that was Jonesboro’s lot in life.

The Cardinals finally found it in Cedric Nettles’ floor burn. The Jonesboro senior came from the opposite side of the backcourt and hit the floor in pursuit of a loose ball. His save resulted in a three-point play for Casey Wells at the other end of the court in the waning seconds of the third quarter.

The Cardinals took control from that point forward in what would become a 71-60 victory, ensuring that they would at least maintain a share of first place in Region 4-AAAA with Lovejoy.

“That’s the way Jonesboro plays basketball,” Cardinals coach Dan Maehlman said, raving about Nettles’ hustle. “We’re supposed to play like that for 32 minutes. Did we do that tonight? No. Maybe 12 or 14 minutes.”

It was nevertheless a hard-fought game, so physical at times that it was difficult for the scorekeepers to keep track of who had how many fouls. Chukedubem Okeke, Jonesboro’s raw 6-foot-7 center, fouled out — though the visiting scorekeeper had him with only four fouls. But the home scorekeeper’s word prevails when there’s a dispute, and his had Okeke with five — and the big man went to the bench, holding up four fingers, insisting to his teammates, “I had only four.”

That was a minor problem. The larger vexation was the way the Cardinals (17-3 overall, 13-1 in the region) played while knowing that Hunt would not. The North Clayton star had a 101-degree fever on Monday, battling bronchitis, and was in no condition to play 24 hours later.

North Clayton (11-7, 9-4) made the best of it, with guard Dionte Agard leading the effort to pick up the slack. Agard had 18 points, and played a key role as the Eagles took a 32-29 lead at the intermission.

“He played a heck of a game,” North Clayton coach Martisse Troup said. “He’s a scorer and I expected him to score those points.”

For a while, Agard’s high-arcing shots made the Eagles forget that Hunt wasn’t on the floor with them. The Cardinals tried to put it out of their minds, too.

“As soon as we found out Marcus wasn’t going to play, we said it didn’t matter because we’ve still got to play our style of basketball,” Maehlman said.

But for big stretches, Jonesboro didn’t play its style of basketball. The Cardinals came out with intensity to start the game, bolting to a 16-5 lead. But North Clayton pounded the ball inside to 6-foot-4 Devin “Tank” Lewis, who finished with 16 points, and overcame Jonesboro’s early run.

Jonesboro’s Patrick Petty, who scored 19 of his 27 points in the second half, said the Cardinals got away from playing team basketball as the Eagles took the lead.

“We played selfish in the second quarter, a lot of one on one,” Petty said.

The Cardinals pulled themselves together in the fourth quarter, pulling away to sweep the season series. Point guard Daniel Peace went coast-to-coast on a layup, intercepted a pass and drained a 3-pointer — all in a 39-second span of the fourth quarter. That expanded a seven-point lead and gave Jonesboro its biggest advantage at 63-51 with 4:39 to play. The closest the Eagles came after that was six points.

Troup knew what his team was up against without Hunt and commended their effort.

“I was expecting us to win,” Troup said. “We made a few errors in the fourth quarter, but for almost 3 1/2 quarters, we played good basketball. There are still some things we have to work out, but everyone stepped up, playing without Marcus. We competed and played hard.”