FOREST PARK — Forest Park’s Avery Wilson won his shootout with Jonesboro’s M.J, Walker, but Walker’s Cardinals defeated the Panthers 68-55 to remain unbeaten in Region 4-AAAAAA play. Forest Park only trailed by two at halftime, but a huge third quarter by Walker and the Cardinals was too much for the Panthers to handle.
Wilson carried the Panthers early, scoring seven points in the first quarter. However, it was Walker’s layup and subsequent free throw that gave Jonesboro a 20-14 lead at the end of the quarter. The free throw made history for the Jonesboro star as he broke the school and county career scoring record of 2,404 points held by former Jonesboro stat Toney Douglas.
“It means a lot, but that wasn’t my goal tonight. My goal was to win with my team,” Walker said. “It’s a good accomplishment, but I’ve still got to work. I can’t be content, I have to keep working to get better.”
The Panthers fought valiantly in the second quarter, with most of the offense going through Wilson. He added eleven more points in the second quarter to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 30-28 at the half.
“He’s a great player who works hard,” Walker said of Wilson. “We’ve been competing for a long time on the AAU circuit and all that. I don’t see why he isn’t getting big (college) offers, he can play. He’s a really good player.”
The Cardinals turned up the pressure in the third quarter and Forest Park began to wilt as Wilson tired. A whole game of being double teamed, while also trying to compete with bigger players down low took its toll on the Forest Park star.
An undersized Forest Park squad needed Wilson to battle underneath for rebounds against bigger opponents. Junior Jamari Smith was an important factor for Jonesboro, finishing with 14 points, 10 rebounds and three thunderous dunks. Walker believes Smith’s return from injury will be vital to Jonesboro’s chances going forward.
“We continue to get better. Right now, our health is our main focus,” Walker said. “Our team chemistry is starting to get better. We got Jamari Smith back, that’s a big help for us.”
Walker heated up in the third quarter as well after some cold shooting in the first half. He scored eight points on Jonesboro’s 10-0 run to end the quarter, punctuating it with a pulsating steal and dunk to give the Cardinals a 46-33 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Wilson had one flurry left in him. His seven points in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter had Forest Park trailing 55-44. Walker replied with six points as part of a Jonesboro 12-3 run that sealed the contest.
The win moved Jonesboro to 18-4 overall and a perfect 14-0 in the region. Forest Park fell 11-11 overall and 8-6 in region play. The two teams will meet again on Feb. 4 at Jonesboro.