JONESBORO — Jonesboro played a close game for the first time in more than a month Friday night at Don Riggs Hurricane Gym.
Greene County Tech battled the Hurricane on nearly equal terms. The Eagles fell just short of forcing overtime when two late 3-point attempts, including Kyler Morris’ desperation heave from well beyond half court, bounced off the rim and Jonesboro escaped with a 41-38 victory in 5A-East senior boys’ basketball.
The eighth-ranked Hurricane (15-3, 10-0 conference) kept its 5A-East record perfect with its 11th consecutive victory. Not since an overtime loss at North Little Rock in late December had Jonesboro played a game decided by less than 15 points.
Jonesboro coach Wes Swift said his team needed to play a close game.
“You’re going to have a close game, or probably four, when you get to the state tournament if you can get that many games,” Swift said. “It’s good to have them and have that little pressure on you whether you win it on the offensive end or the defensive end, being able to execute and trust each other.”
Jonesboro took the lead for good at 35-33 on Amarion Wilson’s two free throws with 5:48 remaining, but GCT (14-7, 4-5 conference) wouldn’t trail by more than four in the final period.
Down 39-35, the Eagles closed the gap to a point as George Smith sank one of two free throws with 3:25 remaining and Morris drove for a layup with 2:52 to go.
“We just wanted to play hard. We wanted to play as a team and compete,” GCT coach Jeff Guiot said. “That’s really all you can do. You really can’t control the outcome. You’d like to think you can, but you can’t. What you can control is your effort and I feel like our guys gave a winning effort. I’m very proud of them.”
After calling time with 2:07 remaining, GCT was unable to capitalize on an opportunity to take the lead with less than two minutes to go and Jonesboro began to run the clock.
Wilson sank two free throws with 32.4 seconds remaining to give the Hurricane a 41-38 lead. The Eagles worked the ball around to Jared Noel, who missed a contested 3-pointer from the corner. Smith fouled Jonesboro’s John Paul Pickens in the scramble for the rebound with 3.3 seconds to play.
“There’s too much time on the clock to foul right there, so we were going to play it straight up and hopefully hold them to one shot,” Swift said. “I thought John Paul’s block-out was really good. He was playing a bigger dude over there and he did a great job blocking him out.”
Pickens missed both free throws, but the Hurricane held on when Morris just missed from deep in the backcourt.
Wilson led Jonesboro with nine points, also contributing five rebounds, five assists and three steals. Bradley Richardson added eight points, followed by Keyln McBride and Kavon Pointer with seven each. Pointer also grabbed seven rebounds.
The Hurricane finished with a season-low point total while shooting 24 percent from the field. Jonesboro was out-rebounded 30-28, but the Hurricane also forced 22 turnovers while committing only nine.
Smith and Noel finished with 13 and 10 points, respectively, to lead GCT, with Noel grabbing nine rebounds. The Eagles were 3-of-5 from the free throw line to the Hurricane’s 12-of-23.
GCT led 9-8 after the first quarter. Jonesboro moved ahead in the second quarter before the Eagles scored the final eight points, including Noel’s late 3-pointer that gave GCT a 19-16 lead at halftime.
Jonesboro led by five points before Christian Walls’ 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter pulled the Eagles within 31-29 going to the final period.
“The fact that we struggled so offensively was extremely frustrating both from the coaching standpoint and from the players’ standpoint,” Swift said. “I think the biggest thing I’m proud of, even though we struggled offensively – kudos to Greene County, they always play us tough and I love how they play and how they represent their school — but for our guys to keep our heads and continue to play hard but disciplined defense in the second half, I was proud of that.”
Jonesboro travels to West Memphis on Tuesday. GCT visits Nettleton for a makeup game Monday before hosting Searcy on Tuesday.