Photo by Jerry Jackson: Miller Grove forward and Georgia signee Brandon Morris made life difficult for Patrick Petty (12) and Jonesboro in the Cardinals' 70-49 loss in the Class AAAA semifinals Wednesday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
DULUTH — Cameron Sutton did his best head-first baseball slide over the scorer's table, and Jonesboro boys basketball coach Dan Maehlman knew his team had listened.
Down by 20 points in the fourth quarter to No. 1 Miller Grove, the three-time defending state champion, Maehlman told his players during a timeout that the deficit could have no effect on their effort on the court. When he saw Sutton dive for a loose ball, sacrificing his body for an extra possession without enough time to make use of it, Maehlman was satisfied.
"I told my kids that we're not going to give up," Maehlman said. "And they kept battling, they kept coming back. I just told them to keep playing."
The Cardinals displayed the resiliency that was a common refrain throughout this season, twice cutting into seemingly insurmountable leads by Miller Grove, but the Wolverines countered each time with star center Tony Parker. The 6-foot-9 senior's 30-point, 8-rebound performance was too much to overcome for Jonesboro in a 70-49 loss Friday in the Class AAAA semifinals at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
An all-DeKalb County final awaits Friday, with Miller Grove (23-6) set to play rival Southwest DeKalb, who defeated North Clayton, 74-67, in the earlier semifinal game Wednesday.
Jonesboro (25-5) entered Wednesday's game determined it could avenge last season's 65-52 loss to Miller Grove in the semifinals, but knew several things had to go the Cardinals way. They needed to have a strong shooting night and contain Parker and 6-foot-8 Georgia signee Brandon Morris. They succeeded in neither.
Shots did not fall from the start, as Miller Grove got out to a 16-10 lead after the first quarter. Jonesboro guards Cameron Sutton and Patrick Petty got open looks from behind the 3-point line, but they combined for just 12 points in the first half. Point guard Daniel Peace found room in the Wolverines defense to drive to the basket, but he encountered Parker and Morris, who forced him to alter his array of lay-ups and floaters.
"We played teams that were guard oriented before," Miller Grove coach Sharman White said, "but Jonesboro was a little unique. Their guards really trust each other. Our guys did a lot of communicating. I thought we played solid defense. They played at a high level. This wasn't easy."
The trio finished with a combined 41 points — or roughly 81 percent of Jonesboro's offense — but much of it came in the fourth quarter when it was too late.
"We still had good shots," Maehlman said. "Especially in the first half, to make the game closer than it was. They just didn't knock them down for whatever reason. Some nights you do that."
Parker and Morris — Parker, in particular — made their performance look easy. Parker, a McDonald's All-American and a consensus top-30 recruit in the country, scored 10 of Miller Grove's first 12 points to start the game, then Parker and Morris scored all of the Wolverines' 15 points in the third quarter to build a 41-20 lead. Morris finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.
When Jonesboro whittled its deficit down to 45-33 early in the fourth quarter, Parker got two transition dunks to give Miller Grove a 55-36 lead. When the Cardinals again threatened, cutting the lead down to 54-43 with 3:00 left in the game, Parker scored six of Miller Grove's next eight points.
"We did the best job we could, but Tony Parker is a big kid," Maehlman said. "He's not a kid, he's a grown man."