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Jonesboro boys get ready for the road

Photo by Brian Paglia / Jonesboro guard Patrick Petty scored a game-high 15 points in the Cardinals' 61-27 victory over Crisp County at home in the Class AAAA tournament. But now Petty and the Cardinals will see if they can maintain the same level of play on the road at Statesboro on Saturday.

Photo by Brian Paglia / Jonesboro guard Patrick Petty scored a game-high 15 points in the Cardinals' 61-27 victory over Crisp County at home in the Class AAAA tournament. But now Petty and the Cardinals will see if they can maintain the same level of play on the road at Statesboro on Saturday.

JONESBORO — Mere minutes had passed after Jonesboro’s effortless 61-27 victory over Crisp County on Wednesday and already the Cardinals were thinking about the next round.

They’d received the news that Statesboro had advanced out of the first round with a victory against Baldwin, and so the Cardinals knew its quest to build off back-to-back state semifinals appearances would now go through Statesboro on Saturday.

“Hostile,” Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman said.

Jonesboro offered the hostile envionrment Wednesday. The Cardinals (23-5), the No. 2 seed from Region 4-AAAA, brushed aside Crisp County (11-15) with relative ease.

At times Jonesboro put on a clinic in offensive efficiency, whipping passes around the perimeter or driving to the basket and dishing to open shooters or Duby Okeke who was eager to finish with a slam.

Whatever lapses in offense Jonesboro suffered it made up for on defense. The Cardinals forced 22 turnovers, most of which turned into transition baskets.

When Crisp County’s Javoris Cooks (eight points) forced a turnover and made a lay-up to make it 16-8 at the start of the second quarter, Jonesboro held the Cougers scoreless for the next 5:13 while the Cardinals went on a 13-0 run to build a 29-8 lead.

A Jonesboro 12-0 run early in the third quarter made it 49-15.

The Cardinals’ starters’ night was over.

“We pride ourself on defense,” Jonesboro guard Patrick Petty said. “That’s where we get most of our points off of in transition.”

Petty led Jonesboro with a game-high 15 points in about three quarters of play while John Walker and Okeke added eight points apiece.

Everything went so smooth in the confines of Jonesboro’s home gymnasium. But though the Cardinals know what awaits them in Statesboro — a small, packed gym; a talented team with three scorers who average double figures; and a veteran coach with a state championship on his resume in Lee Hill — they said they relish the opportunity.

It’s a familiar one. Last season, Jonesboro travelled to Brunswick in the second round facing the same challenge — packed gym, athletic team, good coach. Petty recalls screaming Brunswick fans who’d done their homework, able to call out Jonesboro players by name. The Cardinals survived with a 55-51 victory on their way to the state semifinals.

Jonesboro hasn’t found playing on the road quite as treacherous as some teams might. Though four of Jonesboro’s five losses this season have been on the road, they’ve been by a combined 19 points, including two in overtime.

“We’ve been pretty good on the road,” Petty said. “I guess we feed off of hostile crowds. ... We like beating people in their own house.”

Few teams can replicate the Cardinals’ chemistry that’s built amongst a group of six seniors who’ve been significant contributors since they were sophomores. Nothing tests chemistry like playing on the road in the state tournament. But Jonesboro feels it’s capable of handling the pressure.

“It’s going to be a big-time environment, but these guys feed off that,” Maehlman said. “We have faith in each other in what we need to do. ... Our kids aren’t going to be stressed out.