Anna-Jonesboro picks up senior night win
Pena leads Wildcats with 19 points, beat Sparta, 70-55
Head coach Mike Chamness was expecting a great effort from his Anna-Jonesboro Wildcats as they suited up for their senior night in the finale of the 2019-20 regular season.

He got that and then some in their 70-55 victory over Sparta in front of a large home crowd Friday night.

Coach Chamness got supreme effort in the contest which resulted in a win heading into the postseason and a regular season send off for his 12th graders.

Blake Pena, a 5-foot-10 senior guard and catalyst for his club, topped the scoring effort with 19 points.

Six-foot-two senior Zach Overstreet also came up big, tossing in 14 points while classmate 6-foot Damareon Faust added 13 points.

Noah McFarland, a 6-foot-6 senior, got into early foul trouble and spent the entire second quarter on the bench.

Although he ended up with just three points on the night, he came up big when it counted defensively in the second half and he helped fire up his team in the opening seconds of the contest.

Senior reserve Ethan Klett, a 5-foot-10 guard, contributed with a pair of fourth quarter baskets as A-J kept the Bulldogs on a leash.

Anna-Jonesboro survived all of the Sparta comeback efforts as they closed the regular season at 12-18 overall, 4-6 in the Mississippi Division of the Southern Illinois River-to-River Conference.

“I thought we did a good job early setting the tone. They had to chase us the entire game (scoreboard) than the other way around,” said Coach Chamness. “We started the game well with McFarland's dunk and we made shots to get the separation early.”

For the Bulldogs is was a tough defeat on the road as head coach Jon Norton saw his squad fall behind early.

But they did make a run to get things even in the second quarter only to see the hosts pull away to a double-digit lead for most of the final three quarters.

Carlos Keen, a 6-foot senior guard, led all scorers on the night with 20-points.

Keen was “money” from the foul line as he hit 8-of-9 from the stripe.

“Carlos (Keen) does such a great job for us and he has carried us. Other teams at this time of the year know what he can do so a lot of times they are doubling off on to him,” said Coach Norton. “We needed some others to hit some outside shots for us but tonight we weren't able to hit them.”

Sparta also got double-figure scoring from 6-foot-4 senior forward Kerry Harris as he netted 14.

However a tough start by the visitors forced them to work extremely hard to rally more than once as the Bulldogs dipped to 13-16 overall and 3-7 in the Mississippi.

McFarland opened the scoring and everyone's eyes in the opening possession as he took a lob pass from Pena on a set play for a two-handed dunk for a 2-0 Anna-Jonesboro advantage.

Pena scored three times in the frame, hitting an early shot just outside of the lane, converting a drive to the basket and closing the quarter with a 3-pointer.

Faust scored seven points in the first, getting loose inside for three baskets.

One of the scores was a three-point play as he was fouled in the act of shooting.

Sparta's first run of the game was in the first quarter, as they scored seven consecutive points with Keen, Harris and sophomore Dauntay Merideth scoring with Harris also getting an “And-One” to cut the Anna-Jonesboro lead to just 15-13.

But when Pena nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the circle, A-J led 18-13 after one.

Keen got his club even with the Wildcats in the first minute of the second quarter, converting a pair of free throws and then getting to the basket on a drive that resulted in a foul and a 3-point play as the scoreboard read 18-18 with 7:33 left before halftime.

“He (Keen) is a heck of a player and we tried to keep him out of the paint but he still got in there and got to the foul line,” said Coach Chamness. “He had shot 175 free throws coming into the game for the year. He and Williams are hard to stop because they are so strong.”

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs that would be the only time the game was tied as A-J took off on another scoring run to take back control.

Pena led the 12-3 move with another 3-pointer and another drive in the lane.

Harris got inside rebounding position for a rebound tip in and Overstreet pumped home another 3-pointer for the team.

A basket by junior Ta'kevon Williford on an assist from Pena made it 30-21 A-J.

One more push from Sparta, with Harris carrying the load, got the Bulldogs close one final time before intermission.

The senior forward scored five consecutive points for his squad and his score inside in the paint got Sparta back to 31-27

But two crucial possessions by A-J in the final minute fired the hosts up as they headed to halftime.

Pena got to the lane again on a drive and his running one-handed shot found the mark.

Then junior Maddox Thorpe, a 6-foot-1 guard, found himself open from the left corner on an assist from junior guard Juan Valencia.

Thorpe canned the 3-pointer that beat the buzzer as A-J went to the break up 36-27.

“Thorpe hitting a three just before the half was a huge shot that gave us some 'pep on our step' heading to the half,” said Coach Chamness. “All five of our seniors had a moment and played well. Our confidence was great and they all fed off of that. I'm proud of these guys.”

Pena finished off the end of the quarter run by the Wildcats by opening the second half with a 3-pointer.

What kept Anna-Jonesboro from putting the game away in the third quarter was foul issues as they paraded the Bulldogs to the line.

Coach Norton's club made 6-of-6 from the stripe in the frame and got buckets by Keen, Williams and 6-foot-6 senior Bradyne Cometto as they cut the Wildcats advantage to just 43-39 with 2:16 remaining.

“That three-pointer at the end of the half was big for their momentum. But I thought we came out in the second half and got ourselves back into it,” said Coach Norton. “We did a better job on Pena in the second half but we couldn't get our shots to fall. We came up short tonight.”

But a key rebound bucket by Faust and a huge bucket on a drive to the goal by Williford, that was before the buzzer sounded, pushed the lead back to eight points heading to the final quarter.

Coach Chamness saw hit team finish the job in the fourth quarter, pulling away with some key buckets.

Another 3-pointer from Thorpe and a score from Williford on a nice assist from McFarland got the fourth quarter started.

Klett hit the first of his two baskets in the final stanza as Anna-Jonesboro led 54-42 at the 6:11 mark.

The hosts put the game away with 6-of-9 free throws down the stretch and scores by Overstreet (twice), Williford and Valencia were part of a 12-4 run that ballooned the lead to 70-52 with just over a minute left.

Anna-Jonesboro ended up 26-of-47 overall from the floor (55.3 percent) and they hit half (6-of-12) of their 3-point attempts.

He held a slight edge on the boards (25-24) and each team committed 10 turnovers.

But A-J had just four of the turnovers in the second half.

Sparta ended up just 18-of-49 from the floor (36.7 percent) and only 2-of-14 from the 3-point arc.

Anna-Jonesboro will now prepare for the Vienna 2A Regional which begins Monday night where they will face Johnston City at 6 pm.

A win by the Wildcats will get them a Wednesday night date with top seed Massac County.

Sparta has one more regular season game hosting Chester on Saturday night before they head to the 2A Murphysboro Regional on Monday to face Trico at 6 pm.

“It was big night for their seniors and we knew that they (A-J) would be sky high. We knew we would have to weather the storm,” said Coach Norton. “We didn't start as well as I would have liked but we did fight back. They were able to knock down some shots when they needed to and they played a really good basketball game overall.”

SIRR Mississippi Division

Sparta (55) – Merideth 1 1 0-0 5, Hicks 0 0 0-0 0, Keen 6 0 8-9 20, Williams 2 0 3-6 7, Ethington 0 1 0-0 3, Harris 5 0 4-5 14, Cometto 2 0 2-2 6, Sheldon 0 0 0-0 0.
2FG-16, 3FG-2, FT-17-22, PF-15.
Anna-Jonesboro (70)
– Williford 4 0 0-0 8, Valencia 1 0 1-2 3, Thorpe 0 2 0-0 6, Klett 2 0 0-0 4, Overstreet 3 1 5-7 14, Pena 4 3 2-2 19, Faust 5 0 3-3 13, McFarland 1 0 1-3 3, Belcher 0 0 0-0 0.
2FG-20, 3FG-6, FT-12-17, PF-17.
Fouled Out – None.

Technical Fouls
– None.