Photo by Derrick Mahone
Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman gives senior Cameron Sutton a hug during Senior Night ceremonies before the Cardinals defeated Riverdale 55-49 to close the regular season.
JONESBORO — Patrick Petty and Duby Okeke had been waiting all season for this.
So it was only fitting that the two Jonesboro seniors had their chance to do it on Senior Night.
With less than a minute remaining in the Cardinals’ regular season finale against 4-AAAA, Div. B foe Riverdale, Petty caught a baseball pass from a teammate on the other side of the court, nonchalantly tossed the ball high off the backboard.
Okeke caught it off the bounce and threw down a monster slam to the pleasure of a raucous Jonesboro gym.
It was the exclamation point to Jonesboro’s 55-49 victory over the Raiders, and a heck of a way for Petty and the senior starting five to go out on their last regular season home game of their high school careers.
“We’ve been practicing that dunk since Day 1, but we’ve just never had a chance to do it in a game,” Petty said. “Tonight we had the opportunity and we just did it.”
Jonesboro (20-4, 14-1) also captured its 10th straight win and finished the regular season a full three games ahead of second-place Riverdale in the subregion.
It all sounds pretty good, but Petty said he and his Cardinals aren’t satisfied.
“This feels pretty good for us going into the region playoffs,” he said. “But we’re still too inconsistent. We need to clean that up before we go into the postseason.”
Some of that inconsistency was on display Tuesday, as Riverdale jumped out to an early 8-3 lead in a fast paced first quarter led by the Raiders’ Quincy January who scored six of his team-high 16 points in the opening quarter.
Petty scored nine of Jonesboro’s 12 points himself in the opening frame. He converted an old fashioned three point play with 2:01 left to pull the Cardinals into a 12-12 tie heading into the second quarter.
After both teams sparred evenly in the second, Jonesboro clung to a 22-20 halftime lead. But it was the third quarter that where the Cardinals looked like a team that Maehlman said has “as good a chance as any since I’ve been here” to win a state championship.
Okeke scored on a dunk and senior forward John Walker hit a jumper to start the Cardinals off right in the third. Then Petty caught fire again, ripping off 10 of his game high 25 points that helped cap a 19-1 Jonesboro run that gave them a 41-23 lead with 2:58 left in the third.
After Okeke opened the final quarter with a lay in to make it 47-30, it looked as if Jonesboro would enjoy an anti-climatic finish to Senior Night.
But Riverdale had other plans.
The one-two punch of January and Jerrell Jennings helped the Raiders fight their way back into the game, somewhat reminiscent of the two teams’ first game of the season when Riverdale clawed their way back from a 17 point lead.
Jennings buried a long jumper and January hit two free throws to cut the lead to 47-36. Then as Jennings was driving to the basket, Howard was called for a flagrant foul.
Jennings would hit both of his foul shots, and then on Riverdale’s ensuing possession, he buried a three-pointer from the corner. His five point burst suddenly decreased Jonesboro’s lead to eight. Then Raiders guard Josh Milam drained a three pointer with just under two minutes remaining, making the score 49-44, Jonesboro. Riverdale then had to begin fouling to try and preserve time, but Jonesboro’s Cameron Sutton and Petty were able to knock down clutch free throws to ice it.
Count Cardinals coach Dan Maehlman as one who was not shocked by Riverdale’s ability to make Jonesboro sweat a bit.
“I knew it was coming,” Maehlman said. “We had an 18-point lead, but you just knew they were going to go on a 10-0 run or something to get back in the game. But the thing about these seniors, I don’t get bent out of shape. I know these guys are going to make plays.”
Maehlman said the Senior Night festivities were enough to choke him up a bit, but with the 4-AAAA region tournament looming next Wednesday at Woodland High — and a possible rematch with Eagle’s Landing -— Maehlman wasn’t ready to wax sentimental just yet.
“It was an emotional night for me,” he said. “I’m surprised I didn’t cry more than I did. But I think I didn’t because I know this isn’t over yet. We’ve still got basketball to play. I’m focused on next week. I don’t care who we play. I don’t care if we win by one or 30. Our goal is just to keep extending our season.”