By James Butler
HAMPTON, Ga. – A 19-point win in the game of basketball is considered a blowout 99 percent of the time.
But the Region 4-AAAA Boys Basketball Championship Game was likely an example of the one percent of the time that it is not.
Nationally-ranked Jonesboro stayed undefeated in the state of Georgia and improved to 27-1 overall as they took home the region crown 55-36 over Mount Zion. Yet it’s Jonesboro which feels unfulfilled and the Bulldogs are encouraged.
Despite the final tally, Mount Zion (23-6) gave the Cardinals all they wanted in the first half and trailed 16-15 at the intermission.
“Mount Zion had a good game plan coming out in a 3-2 zone. We didn’t execute offensively,” said Jonesboro head coach Dan Maehlman. “I think we shot 15 3-pointers in the first half and maybe hit one. We just didn’t execute or do anything right in the first half. I don’t know what you can contribute it to.”
Jonesboro had played Mount Zion twice in the regular season, winning both games by 40 and holding nearly 30-point leads at halftime. This game was different however. The Bulldogs zone had the Cardinals unsure in the first half.
“It wasn’t anything uncomfortable. It was just we had to adjust to it,” said Jonesboro leading scorer M.J. Walker who had 17 points on the night. “We came out a little slow. The second half we just read it. We understood what defense they were throwing at us and we just attacked it pretty good.”
In the second half Jonesboro also decided to force the tempo after Mount Zion’s game plan made it harder for Jonesboro to play with its normal pace.
“We decided to turn the pressure up a little bit and try to speed the pace of the game up,” Maehlman said. “Sometimes we look alright, but were not successful just sitting there – especially against zones, 3-2’s, 2-3’s. We just stand there.”
Turning up the pressure and going to its full-court press worked for Jonesboro as the press led to four straight Bulldog turnovers and helped the Cardinals score the first 13 points of the second and create some distance.
Jonesboro’s Tracy Hector Jr. provided the highlight of the night when he soared down the right baseline to dunk over a Bulldog to punctuate the run.
“Our point guard Austin Donaldson found me in the corner and I pumped faked the shot, the defender fell for it and I went baseline and just dunked it,” Hector said.
The play also highlighted another concern for Jonesboro, however, as Hector re-aggravated an ankle injury that kept him out nearly three weeks before he played in the region tournament semifinals.
The Cardinals are pretty beat up, having already lost another starter in freshman Jamari Smith who is out for the season with a hand injury. Donaldson and yet another starter, Deantre Mack, has missed practice time with ankle injuries.
While Jonesboro will look to hold everything together and run the table in defense of its 2013-14 state championship, Mount Zion coach Maurice Triche said he celebrates the progress his program has made in his four-year stint.
The Bulldogs will host a state playoff game as the region’s No. 2 seed. As for Friday, Triche said he liked the way his team played early in the game. He just wishes they were able to sustain it.
“It was a good game and unfortunate we came out on the [wrong] side. I take my hat off to my kids,” he said. “[We] basically ran out of gas.”