JONESBORO — Coming into the second round of the Class AAAA playoffs, South Effingham and Jonesboro were confident teams. The two squads had a combined six losses between them.
That is why it shocked many South Effingham fans gathered in the Jonesboro gym that the Lady Cardinals scored 18 of the game’s first 19 points.
South Effingham made a second quarter run, but Jonesboro controlled the game enough afterwards to claim a 59-43 victory and a spot in the quarterfinals.
"I think we’re playing playoff basketball at this point," said Lady Cardinal assistant coach Crystal Benton, who had just completed her last game as acting head coach. She had to fill in the last two games as head coach Lamar Harris served a two-game suspension after being ejected from last week’s Region 4-AAAA championship game at Woodland.
"Whether I’m coaching or Coach Harris is coaching, it’s going to be the same," Benton said.
Victoria Florence’s 3-pointer paved the way for the Lady Cardinals to unleash the night’s biggest weapon — the full-court press.
Thanks to the press, Jonesboro (25-4) came up with three quick steals that led to baskets by Kimberly Dawkins and Raven Wynn to make the score 7-0 with 4:56 remaining in the opening quarter.
Michaelle Smith scored a basket, Briana Benson got a steal and score, and Smith scored again to make the score 13-0 before South Effingham scored a single point. Benton credited the success of the team at the start of the game to scouting.
"We did notice they had a little bit of trouble with a press, so we decided to come out in a press," Benton said.
When the quarter ended, the Lady Cardinals led 18-1.
Seeing how troublesome the Jonesboro press was, South Effingham (28-3) decided to deploy a press of its own.
"They did a good job of (rattling) our girls by coming out of nowhere to throw their press at us," Benton said.
The press and the offense of Tianna Germain helped the Lady Mustangs start the second quarter on a 21-6 run, cutting the Jonesboro lead to 24-22. Germain scored 13 of her game-high 22 points in the quarter.
It did not help that Dawkins went to the bench with two fouls during the midst of that run. After two baskets from Smith and one from Wynn gave Jonesboro a 30-22 halftime lead, Dawkins returned in the third quarter to score eight of her 15 points and help the Lady Cardinals retake control of the game.
"Once we were able to get her back in the rotation our girls fed her the ball and she scored on the inside," Benton said.
Dawkins also had 12 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Jonesboro led 46-32 after three quarters and pushed its lead to 57-37 on a Smith score with 3:15 left to go in the game.
Smith led Jonesboro with 16 points.
Ta’Keia Marshall had 11 points for the Lady Mustangs. Dionna Hartfield had four points, and the Lady Cardinals held the inside trio of Hannah Anderson, Amy Jameson and Shae Leverett to two points each.
Jonesboro will remain at home for their quarterfinal game against Howard, just one win away from a return trip to the semifinals. Howard was a 49-48 winner over Monroe Area.