By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Jo Jo Janning, the only senior basketball player at Mercer Christian Academy, had been told there would be a recognition of that milestone at the school on Friday night.
He didn’t expect a life-sized cardboard cutout of himself in the front hallway of the school.
Once that encounter, and a pre-game ceremony were done, he expected a tough game against New Life Christian from Nicholas County, and that’s what Mercer Christian got.
The homestanding Cavaliers held off the visiting Christian Lions in an exciting fourth quarter to take a 54-48 win, wearing their black uniforms on “Blackout Night” in the MCA gym.
“We were fortunate to win it,” said coach Darrell Presley. “It was a defensive effort on both sides. Our kids played hard, and I was proud of them.”
In a four-minute span of the first quarter, New Life (6-7) drained four three-pointers to push in front 13-6, then did not score again for five minutes, going eight possessions without getting a shot off.
During the second quarter, the Cavaliers scored 17 points but allowed 18 points, eight of them by Zack Walker. The Lions took a 31-25 lead into halftime.
Mercer Christian (11-7) clamped down in the third stanza, outscoring their guests 14-1 to go ahead for good. New Life was 0-for-12 from the field and 1-for-4 at the free throw line in that period.
Presley said, “We came out with a little defense, a half-court trap defense that we’d worked on. We really hadn’t used it in a game tonight. I was proud of them, they executed it well.”
New Life coach Jason Eades said, “I think our offense stalled. A big part was, we stopped going to the rim — and they (Mercer Christian) played some D (defense) in that quarter.”
Caleb Janning said, “We really stepped it up in the second half. We just all got pumped up — the fans pumped us up, our teammates on the bench, the coaches all helped.”
Twice in the final quarter, the Lions were able to pull within a single point, the last time on a transition layup by Walker with 4:41 remaining to create a 45-44 score.
Samuel Stephens gave the Cavaliers some breathing room with his only score of the night, another layup in transition.
From that point on, MCA went 7-for-12 at the foul line to wrap up their point production, and snagged six steals on defense — three by J.J. Easter and one each by Caleb Janning, Chandler Scott and Kenny Shrewsberry.
Lions coach Eades said, “In the fourth quarter, they didn’t listen. If they had, it might have been a different outcome.”
In the face of the pressure of a close game, the Cavaliers showed discipline, sticking to their offensive formation — which is still rather new to them.
Presley said, “We work on that a lot. We work on spacing, timing cutting, filling in the gap where the guy left on the cut. That’s a lot of our offense.”
Presley took over the reins of the team about a month ago when coach David Lambert had to take a leave of absence for family reasons.
“They’re catching onto it,” Presley said about his schemes. “These guys have had to learn a totally new system with what we do, and they’ve adapted well.”
Caleb Janning, Jo Jo’s younger brother, led the Cavaliers with 21 points, going 7 for 13 in free throws. Easter followed with 16 points.
Jo Jo Janning finished with four points but contributed in many ways away from the ball.
Presley said, “He rebounded; he had weak-side help on the defense. He had great footwork. He communicated. And he came up with some big rebounds when we needed it.”
Walker had 13 points at halftime for New Life and finished the day with 21.
Presley said, “That No. 10, he’s a great player.”
The MCA boys host Rainelle Christian today at noon in Princeton, and play Appalachian Christian on Monday.
Mercer Christian 53, New Life 40
On “Blackout Night,” Brown was the focus in the girls game.
The reigning Bluefield Daily Telegraph-Pocahontas Coal Association player of the week, Jamie Brown, scored 33 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Lady Cavaliers.
Mercer Christian (8-8) went ahead 10-9 on the first of many fast-break layups by Brown, and never trailed again. Brooke Bradford and Sami Goings had 16 and 11 rebounds respectively for the Lady Cavs.
New Life (5-5) got 29 points and 20 rebounds from Rachel Brown, and 18 rebounds from Bryce McCourt.
Mercer Christian head coach Shelia Otey said, “Rachel is a very good ballplayer. ... We knew we had to contain her pretty much to come away with a win.”
MCA led 30-22 at halftime, then limited the Lions to five points in the third period.
New Life Christian head coach Gary Johnson said, “We felt like we were still in pretty good shape (at halftime). Some fouls on our shooters hurt us a little bit. It was hard to come back.”
Otey said, “That box-out on defense just means everything ... then down the floor we can go.”
“These first-time players are really executing well.”
In the final period, Jamie Brown put on a dribbling clinic while being double- and triple-teamed.
“We put the ball in her hands, she can control the tempo,” Otey said. “Even when they put two or three on her, she can handle the ball.”
The Lady Cavaliers wrap up their regular season on Feb. 25 at home against Mount View.
— Contact Tom Bone at
At Mercer Christian Academy
NEW LIFE CHRISTIAN (5-5)
Courtney Dean 1 3-4 5, Kate Waddell 2 1-2 6, Rachel Brown 11 4-10 29. Totals 14 8-16 40.
MERCER CHRISTIAN (8-8)
Jamie Brown 12 8-17 33, London Taylor 4 0-0 9, Sami Goings 2 1-2 5, Brooke Bradford 1 0-2 2, Shae Mullins 1 0-0 2, Leah Billings 1 0-0 2. Totals 21 9-12 53.
New Life Christian..........11 11 5 13 — 40
Mercer Christian.............12 18 15 8 — 53
Three-point goals — NLC 4 (Brown 3, Waddell 1); MCA 2 (Brown 1, Taylor 1). Total fouls — NLC 19, MCA 15. Fouled out — NLC, Dean; MCA, Taylor.
NEW LIFE CHRISTIAN (6-7)
Cody Rose 1 0-0 2, Zack Walker 7 5-8 21, Sean Chasteen 4 0-0 9, John Paul Brown 4 1-2 10, Seth Chasteen 1 0-0 2, Clay Bragg 2 0-2 4. Totals 19 6-12 48.
MERCER CHRISTIAN (11-7)
Jo Jo Janning 1 2-2 4, Caleb Janning 7 7-13 21, J.J. Easter 5 6-6 16, Kenny Shrewsberry 3 0-0 6, Chandler Scott 2 1-2 5, Samuel Stephens 1 0-2 2. Toals 19 16-25 54.
New Life Christian..........13 18 1 16 — 48
Mercer Christian...............8 17 14 15 — 54
Three-point goals — NLC 4 (Walker 2, Sean Chasteen 1, Brown 1); MCA none. Fouled out — none.