JONESBORO — One shot separated two of the state’s top Class 5A boys’ basketball teams Tuesday at Don Riggs Hurricane Gym.
Little Rock Christian’s Riley McGuirk drilled a 3-pointer from the corner with three seconds left in the game, lifting the Warriors to a 54-52 victory over Jonesboro.
Jonesboro (4-2) led nearly the entire game, but the Hurricane missed three free throws in the final minute to leave an opening for the Warriors (6-2). With Jonesboro leading 52-51, Little Rock Christian’s Layden Blocker drew the defense before passing to McGuirk for the go-ahead basket.
The Hurricane’s half-court heave missed at the buzzer as the Warriors celebrated a victory in a matchup of teams ranked in the most recent Arkansas Sports Media poll. Jonesboro was No. 8 overall and No. 3 in Class 5A, while Little Rock Christian was No. 4 in Class 5A.
“You could very easily see those two teams playing again somewhere down the line in March,” Jonesboro coach Wes Swift said.
Jonesboro nearly prevailed in spite of an off night shooting. The Hurricane finished at 35.7 percent from the field, including 6-of-25 from the 3-point line, and was 6-of-12 from the free throw line.
Junior guard Jesse Washington led the Hurricane with 16 points, making 4-of-8 attempts from the 3-point line, and junior guard Kavon Pointer added 15 points along with a team-high eight rebounds. Senior guard Keyln McBride, Jonesboro’s season scoring leader, finished with six points.
“It’s just one of those games. He’s kind of kicking himself in the locker room right now, but it happens,” Swift said. “We’ve seen the best shooters in the world struggle. … You can say they did a great job, but he had tons of open looks. They just didn’t go down tonight.”
Blocker, the Warriors’ highly touted 6-2 sophomore point guard, finished with 20 points. Creed Williamson, a 6-8 junior who is the son of former Arkansas All-American Corliss Williamson, added 10 points and 11 rebounds for Little Rock Christian.
Little Rock Christian shot 53.7 percent from the field and had a 33-28 rebounding advantage, but the Warriors took 15 fewer shots than the Hurricane because they had 18 turnovers. Jonesboro had just seven turnovers.
“I have to look at it from the defensive side of the basketball. We were trapping ball screens, because we didn’t want (Blocker) to get going downhill, and we were trapping Creed Williamson in the post. Both of those require rotations out of them,” Swift said. “The initial trap is one thing, but then how do you rotate out of those? Overall we did not do bad and I’m happy with that.
“For the most part we gave good effort on the boards. When we did give up offensive rebounds, it was because we had some rotations out here and got lost and the shot went up before we got matched back up.”
Jonesboro built a 16-8 lead in the first quarter. Little Rock Christian rallied to tie the game at 20 in the second quarter before Washington sank two 3s to help the Hurricane take a 29-23 halftime lead.
The Warriors closed the gap to one point a couple of times in the third quarter before Washington connected for another 3 to give the Hurricane a 42-38 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Jonesboro led by as many as six in the fourth quarter, the last time at 48-42 on Chamar Anderson’s basket with 4:08 remaining. Blocker pulled the Warriors within 50-48 when he scored with 1:51 remaining.
After Pointer missed two free throws, Williamson made one of two with 28 seconds to go. The teams traded free throws, Pointer making two for Jonesboro and Blocker two for Little Rock Christian as the Hurricane led 52-51 with 17.1 seconds remaining. Washington missed the front end of a one-and-one with 16 seconds to play.
Jonesboro returns from its Christmas break next Tuesday at North Little Rock. The Charging Wildcats, coached by Johnny Rice, were No. 1 overall in the latest ASM state poll.
“They’re huge, 6-11 and 6-8, both D-I offers right now, and lots of guards to go around them,” Swift said. “Johnny’s got another phenomenal team. I would have to list them as the best team in the state, odds on to win the Class 6A state championship, and we’re going to their place, but we’re going to look forward to it.”