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Mt. Zion, Jonesboro meet in big showdown

It’s been three years since Mount Zion has defeated Jonesboro in boys basketball.

You would have to search the archives for Jan. 10, 2010 to find that Mount Zion defeated the Cardinals 57-54 on that date.

In fact, four weeks after that win, Mount Zion posted another to sweep the two-game series.

Jonesboro senior starters Daniel Peace, Patrick Petty and Cameron Sutton were freshman littered about a roster full of juniors and seniors that season.

And nobody from Mount Zion’s current squad was anywhere to be found on that 2009-10 bunch.

Both teams went 15-11 that year. Jonesboro finished a game ahead of Mount Zion for second in the region standings. Both teams were vying for a spot in the state playoffs.

Since then it’s been a tale of different directions for the two programs. Jonesboro followed up its 15-11 season with a 28-4 mark and its first of two consecutive trips to the state semifinals.

Mount Zion went 11-39 for the next two years.

But this year is different. The Bulldogs, at 11-3, are off to their best start in years. They boast a Division I caliber player in Jacksonville University signee, J.R. Holder. Holder averaged almost 25 points a game in 2011-12, despite Mount Zion’s dismal 4-22 record.

But now, Holder has help. Namely in the personage of 6-foot-5 inch forward Carnilious Simmons. Simmons, who says he patterns his game after Moses Malone, is averaging a double-double a game. And his presence, according to second-year Mount Zion coach Maurice Triche, has made all the difference in the team’s success.

“With (Simmons) helping down low and averaging almost 20 points and over 10 rebounds a game, it takes some of the pressure off of J.R.,” Triche said. “He doesn’t feel like he has to do it all.”

With a 49-46 victory Friday against Forest Park, Mount Zion is now focused on grabbing its first victory against Jonesboro in over two years. But more than that, Triche said he just wants his team to keep improving.

“These guys are in a position that they’ve never been in before,” he said. “They’ve never won like this before, and we’re getting used to learning how to win. We want to take each game, no matter who it’s against, and just keep getting better.”

Jonesboro guard Patrick Petty thinks they are learning well.

“They’ve got pretty much the same guys they’ve had last year,” Petty said. “But you can tell they're starting to learn how to play together as a team now.”

The Cardinals, despite their recent success, have had their own challenges finding proper team chemistry.

After last season’s semifinal loss to Miller Grove, and with the entire starting lineup intact for this season, the ninth-ranked Cardinals were expected to be the front runners for a state title this season. And according to Maehlman that expectation placed upon them by others may have been the worst thing to happen to them.

“I don’t think it’s so much gone to their heads,” he said. “But I do think there’s been a little bit of entitlement that they’ve been feeling. We’ve gotten away from doing what Jonesboro basketball is built on. Some of it is my fault for allowing these seniors to get away with a little more than normal.”

Maehlman took steps to correct it when he benched his entire starting lineup Tuesday at Spalding. The Cardinals won, but it lit a fire under the regulars to perform better.

Maehlman said he was pleased with the effort in Friday’s 49-30 win against North Clayton.

Jonesboro will be without some pieces of its backcourt for this evening’s 5:30 p.m. matchup. Guard Cameron Sutton will be away at an official football recruiting visit to Auburn, and Daniel Peace is out indefinitely with a back injury.

Maehlman said that it shouldn't take much, however, for his team to get up for this one.

“There’s been some talking going on back and forth with the fans, with the kids,” he said. “These kids know each other. It’s going to be a hostile environment. We’ll have to be ready to play. But if we take care of things defensively, I think we should be okay.”