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North Clayton loses grip on upset bid

Photo by Dennis Thomas
Jonesboro center Duby Okeke scores on a slam dunk during first-half action of the Cardinals’ Region 4-AAAA, Div. B contest at North Clayton on Tuesday.

Photo by Dennis Thomas Jonesboro center Duby Okeke scores on a slam dunk during first-half action of the Cardinals’ Region 4-AAAA, Div. B contest at North Clayton on Tuesday.

COLLEGE PARK — Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman didn’t sound like the coach of a team that just won its eighth straight game.

Nevertheless, Jonesboro’s 62-51 game win over North Clayton in Tuesday’s Region 4-AAAA, Div. B matchup was a win all the same.

Duby Okeke powered the sometimes sluggish Cardinals by tallying 16 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots.

Maehlman said that Okeke was clearly his team’s player of the game.

“Duby was a man tonight,” Maehlman said. “He truly anchored us all night. On defense and scoring; he was just everywhere for us.

Now, if someone could just help Maehlman figure out the reason why the rest of his team came out seemingly uninspired in spurts.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Maehlman said. “We still haven’t played a full 32-minute game out there. It’s been kind of like that all season long. A referee came to me and said we looked a little sluggish and I said I wish I knew why. He told me they were just waiting for the playoffs. I hope that isn’t the case.”

North Clayton didn’t hesitate to bring playoff intensity in the game’s early moments, however. The Eagles, who scored a season-low 30 points in a 20-point loss to the Cardinals 18 days ago, seemed determined to avoid a repeat of that first game.

North Clayton’s Stefan Bradley knocked down a long range three-pointer with 5:09 left in the first quarter that ignited a 10-2 run, giving the Eagles a 17-9 advantage at the end of the first quarter.

Bradley’s hot shooting continued into the second quarter. His back-to-back 3-pointers, followed by an inside bucket by junior Paul Sellers, gave North Clayton a nine point lead — its largest of the night — before Jonesboro clamped down on defense and began its methodical climb back.

Sellers’ bucket at the 1:58 mark of the second quarter was North Clayton’s last points of the half. Meanwhile, Jonesboro got several easy baskets in transition to spark an 11-0 run that was capped off by Casey Wells draining a 3-pointer from the corner to put Jonesboro up 29-27 — its first advantage since a 2-0 lead early in the first quarter.

The Cardinals (18-4, 11-1) maintained its lead throughout the third quarter, although North Clayton pulled to within one several times.

It wasn’t until Wells’ 3-pointer and an Okeke dunk on an alley-oop from Patrick Petty to make it 45-39 with 5:46 left in the game that Jonesboro started to put some distance between themselves and the Eagles.

A floater by Sellers would cut the Jonesboro lead to 50-48 with just over two minutes to go before the Cardinals scored eight unanswered points and North Clayton had to start fouling.

In addition to Okeke’s big game, Petty chipped in with 15 and Cameron Sutton added 12 for the Cardinals who maintained a three-game region lead over Riverdale with just two regular season games remaining.

Bradley’s game-high 24 points kept North Clayton within striking distance for much of the night. The Eagles (11-11, 8-5) will finish out the season with road games against Spalding, Marietta and Griffin.

And with just two games left — at Upson-Lee on Friday and home against Riverdale on Tuesday — Maehlman said he is hoping his team hits its peak by postseason time.

“I’d say we’re about 75 percent there,” Maehlman said. “We’re still trying get clicking on all cylinders by February 9.”