Photo by Dennis Thomas
Jonesboro center Duby Okeke will lead his team into a Region 4-AAAA tournament semifinals contest against North Clayton on Friday. The Cardinals won the two regular season meetings.
JONESBORO — It looks like the perfect set up for some North Clayton region tournament deja vu.
Last season, the Eagles stepped into the Region 4-AAAA tournament with a 14-10 record. And despite having Clayton County Player of the Year, and now Georgia Tech freshman starter Marcus Hunt scoring well over 20 points a game, North Clayton was considered an underdog against Riverdale.
Then against Lovejoy. Then Jonesboro.
The Eagles kept winning until a 57-50 victory against Jonesboro claimed an unlikely region title for coach Martisse Troup and his Eagles.
Almost exactly one year later — thanks to an opening round 76-69 victory over Stockbridge in this season’s Region 4-AAAA tournament — North Clayton gets to face that same Jonesboro team from last season — literally.
The Cardinals return its entire starting five from a squad that reached the state semifinals, while North Clayton is not only without Hunt, but they also lost the steady services of point guard Dionte Agard to graduation.
No matter, said Troup, whose Eagles (14-12) are set to tangle with Jonesboro (21-4) tonight in the tournament’s 5:30 p.m. semifinal contest at Woodland High. Troup said his bunch is ready for an encore performance.
“Our mindset now is you’ve just got to be focused and ready to play,” Troup said. “We’ve played 20 something games this year. So it’s nothing different or spectacular that we need to be trying to do to win the game.”
North Clayton is familiar with the Cardinals, losing the first game 50-30 on Jan. 11 and then dropping a 62-51 decision 18 days later.
Despite the loss in that second game, North Clayton had Jonesboro within two points with just over two minutes left in the game before the Cardinals scored eight unanswered points to ice it.
Troup said the relatively competitive game gave the Eagles the confidence they’ll need to produce a different result this time around.
“That game caused us to think that we can compete with anybody,” he said. “We were right there in the game. They know that we can compete with any team. The main thing is just getting them to keep believing it.”
Six-foot-eight center Duby Okeke had 16 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots for Jonesboro in that last matchup. And Troup knows such a performance from the Winthrop signee will need to be prevented in order to have a chance at pulling the upset.
Stefan Bradley, who is averaging 19.2 points per game, will have to have another big performance to give North Clayton a shot as well. Bradley poured in a game high 24 points the last time the two teams met.
The stakes are higher this time. The winner is guaranteed a first round home game in the state tournament.
And Jonesboro, winners of 11 straight, will be a formidable obstacle in the way of the Eagles’ state tournament hopes. But the Cardinals will also be familiar.
“There’s a lot at stake here,” Troup said. “These guys from both teams are friends off the court, but on the floor it’s going to be a war.”