MACON – No. 6 Jonesboro became only the second boys team from Clayton County to win a state championship on Thursday when it upset No. 1-ranked Columbia 56-51 in the Class AAAA title game at the Macon Coliseum.
Junior Tracey Hector Jr. led the Cardinals with 19 points, 15 of them in the first half, and a game-high 10 rebounds. Jonesboro (27-6) was making its first appearance in the championship game since 2003. The 1993 North Clayton boys had been the only previous team from Clayton County to win it all.
“I’ve never seen him this aggressive in a game,” Jonesboro’s James Walker said about his teammate. “He was great. Whatever he saw, he took.”
Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman said he told his team to do three things before the game: make Columbia take outside shots, block out and “play like grown men.” He said, “I told them it doesn’t matter if your 14 or 15 years old, you’ve got to play like grown men and every single one of them did.”
Columbia (28-5) lost in the championship game for the second straight season. The Eagles were making their fifth straight appearance in the final and were trying to rebound from last year’s loss to Eagle’s Landing in the title game, which broke a three-year streak of championships. Columbia was trying to become the first DeKalb County school to win six state championships.
Jonesboro also got 14 points from James Walker and nine points from DeAntre Mack. The Cardinals made 10 of 12 free throws in the final 2:05 to retain their lead.
Columbia was led by Maurice Rivers and Nick Singleton with 13 points apiece and Anthony Rice with 12 points. Rivers led the team with seven rebounds.
“The kids performed unbelievably,” Maehlman said. “I thought they might be nervous, not be talking, but they were exactly the way they are when they walk in the gym every day. They showed unbelievable poise.”
Jonesboro used a strong first-quarter effort from Hector and held an 11-10 lead at the end of the period. Hector scored the first nine points for the Cardinals and had six rebounds before leaving with 1:46 left in the quarter after banging his knee on a courtside table. Hector wasn’t injured and was back on the court when the second period began. Jonesboro outrebounded Columbia 12-6 in the first period.
The lead changed hands twice early in the second quarter and was tied 14-14 when Jonesboro went on an 8-0 run to take a 22-14 lead. Hector, who finished the first half with 15 points and eight rebounds, scored six of the Cardinals’ last eight points and Jonesboro had a 26-16 lead at intermission.
Columbia came out strong in the third quarter. The Eagles used a 12-4 rally, sparked by a 3-pointer from Shadell Bell and a three-point play from Maurice Rivers, to get within a point. Columbia finally caught Jonesboro at 34-34 on a basket by Nick Singleton. Columbia, which scored only six points in the second period, had 20 in the third and the game was tied 36-36 going into the final quarter.
The fourth quarter was a series of surges. Jonesboro went up by four, but Columbia caught the Cards at 40-40. Columbia took a 42-41 lead on Keuntay Puckett’s driving laup, but Jonesboro responded and went ahead 45-42 on Hector’s fast-break bucket.
Columbia trailed 47-46 and called timeout with 1:11 left to set up its strategy and again with 58.9 seconds left when Jonesboro denied the inbounds pass. Jonesboro’s Elijah Wade stole the inbounds pass and Austin Donaldson made two free throws to give the Cards a 49-46 lead with 52.2 seconds left.
“It’s tough to get here,” Columbia coach Kerry Sandifer said. “We fought hard to get here. It wasn’t the outcome we wanted. Tonight Jonesboro was a little better than us.”
Jonesboro (56): Tracey Hector 19, Elijah Wade, DeAntre Mack 9, Austin Donaldson 6, James Walker 14, Zerrick Cooper 4, Kenneth Qualls, Jyair Mincy 4.
Columbia (51): Anthony Rice 12, Maurice Rivers 13, Nick Singleton 13, Keuntay Puckett 4, Deshon Cooper 4, Bryce Brown, Shadell Bell 5, Nate Amberslay, Khalil Haynes, Chris Jones.