By Gabriel Stovall
So let the state championship talk begin.
We’ve been here before, right? It’ll be three times, to be specific. The No. 1 Cardinals breezed by Grady tonight, winning in the Class AAAA Final Four round 77-49. It wasn’t close, much like most of Jonesboro’s postseason — save its second round opponent Carrollton.
Now, Liberty County, after defeating Lithonia 81-68 in the other 4A semifinal, is the last team that stands in the way of the Cardinals entering some rarified air.
With a win Thursday night against Liberty, Jonesboro will become just the second Class AAAA boys basketball program to win three straight state championships. The other, of course, being that vaunted Miller Grove juggernaut that started a four year reign from 2009 through 2012.
Incidentally, Miller Grove just defeated another Southern Crescent area semifinalist — McIntosh — to earn a trip back to a state championship game. But I digress.
The Cardinals have rarely been tested inside the state of Georgia, and for those who may assume that trend to continue Thursday night, be reminded of how Carrollton pushed the top-ranked team to the brink in last year’s state championship game.
Anybody who’s still playing at this point is capable of playing at a high enough level to win it all — even if that means knocking off a world-beater like Jonesboro.
We’re already pretty familiar with the defending champs, so let’s take an early look at Jonesboro’s championship game opponent.
RECORD: 27-1 overall, 10-0 as Region 3-AAAA champions
STREAK: Winners of 25 straight, dating back to a 75-74 double overtime loss to Statesboro on December 5.
OFFENSIVE PRODUCTION: Liberty County’s averaging 79.2 points per game.
DEFENSIVE PRODUCTION: Liberty County’s holding opponents to just 59.4 points per game.
AVG. MARGIN OF VICTORY: 20.5 points.
THE PLAYMAKERS: The Panthers are paced by the high scoring trio of 6-foot-2 junior Davion Mitchell (24.1 ppg); 6-foot-1 junior Richard LeCounte (20.8 ppg) and 6-foot-4 sophomore Will Richardson (13.2 ppg). Together those three comprise of over 70 percent of Liberty County’s offense. In addition to Mitchell’s scoring prowess, he’s also averaging 7.4 assists and three steals per contest. He’s had six 30-plus scoring performances, including a 42-point outing against New Hampstead on February 5. He’s shooting at a 41 percent clip from behind the arc. Mitchell has been dubbed by some as one of the state’s most complete prospects at point guard. An offer list that includes Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisville, Memphis and Cincinnati seems to confirm that, although Mitchell looks solid for now in his October commit to Auburn.
THE SCOUTING REPORT: Liberty County may be one of the more athletic teams in Georgia that Jonesboro will face. Led by Mitchell and LeCounte, the Panthers will get out and push the pace, which should suit Jonesboro just fine. Neither team is huge size wise, so the transition game and perimeter game could be in full focus. The Panthers won’t be coming into Jonesboro blind, as last season the Panthers faced the Cardinals in the Final Four round, losing 71-43.
Check out Liberty County guard Davion Mitchell’s highlight reel: