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Johnson falls in overtime heartbreaker to Sandy Creek, 83-80

POSTED: February 25, 2014 11:52 p.m.
Jared Putnam | The Times/

Johnson's James Hodges steals the ball during the third quarter against Sandy Creek in the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs on Tuesday in Oakwood.

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The first words used by Johnson coach Jeff Steele to describe his team’s effort in a difficult second-round playoff loss to Sandy Creek were character and heart.

The Knights (24-6) managed to pull back even from a seven-point deficit late in the fourth quarter and sent a physical battle into overtime, only to fall in a heartbreaker, 83-80.

“To come back from seven down with only 53 seconds to play says everything about this team,” said Steele, who led the Knights to their second straight Region 8-AAAA title in 2014.

Drew Dunham hit all four of his free throw attempts in the final minute of regulation, then passed it off to Justin Jones for a basket to tie it at 70-70 with 14 seconds left to play. The basket by Jones was received with thunderous cheering by the near-capacity crowd in Oakwood.

In overtime, it wouldn’t go quite the same for Johnson. The Patriots jumped up by six points on Janauri Jones’ third basket of overtime and led 78-72 with only 1:40 left in the extra four-minute period.

James Hodges, who led all scorers with 22 for Johnson, countered with two inside baskets late in the overtime frame. The Knights would get as close as 81-78 late in overtime as Dunham hit a 3-pointer, but Sandy Creek managed to keep that same lead as Brandon Lindsey hit 1 of 2 in two trips to the free throw line.

Even so, Johnson got the ball back for the final possession with a chance to tie it, but a 3-point attempt just before the buzzer from the corner went adrift.

Holding back his emotions from his team after the game, Steele said his program had absolutely nothing to hang their heads about after another record-breaking season, including a Lanierland Championship this year.

“They’ll be able to look back after some time and be proud of everything we accomplished this season,” said Steele, who was especially appreciative of the large crowd of Johnson students and fans that came out for the playoff thriller in South Hall.

Steele will especially miss from the 2013-14 squad his senior, led by Hodges, Dunham and Carter Cagle, who hit three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter as the Knights inched closer.

“These seniors had my heart,” said Steele. “I really feel like they’re my sons.”

Each of Cagle’s first two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter cut Sandy Creek’s lead down to four.

Trailing by seven with 47 seconds left, Cagle knocked down his final 3-pointer as the Knights then trailed 69-64.

After Sandy Creek turned the ball over its next trip down court, Dunham converted both free throws to cut Sandy Creek’s lead to 70-68.

When Jones knocked down the basket to tie it 70-all, after a Patriots turnover, it brought the Johnson faithful to their feet almost simultaneously.

“I had a fan of ours after the game tell me ‘that’s the best high school basketball game I’ve ever seen,’ which is a credit to how much support our fan base has given to us,” Steele said.

Steele pointed out that turnovers, 23 total, played a factor in not pulling off another miracle comeback in overtime. Sandy Creek hit 5 of 8 shots from the free throw line in overtime, and 20 of 28 from the line on the night.

Johnson was 16 of 24 from the free throw line.

“We had more turnovers than usual and weren’t as good from the free throw line as we should have been,” said Steele. “In the first quarter, we had eight turnovers, and part of that was nerves and trying to settle in.”

Sandy Creek struck first in overtime with Javon Jackson’s easy basket, but Johnson countered with Cockfield’s layup in the paint. The Patriots got up as much as 80-73 in overtime with Jancuri Smith’s basket off of his own miss with only 1:40 remaining.

The Knights started one final rally with a basket from Hodges.

Also in double figures for Johnson in scoring were Jones (14 points), Cockfield (12), Dunham (11) and Cagle (11).
Sandy Creek also had five scorers in double digits, led by Christian Turner’s 17 and Lindsey’s 16.

The Patriots dominated inside during the first quarter and built their biggest lead of the game with Lindsey’s graceful dribbling between three Johnson defenders and basket to go us 32-19 at the midway point of the second quarter.

The Knights finally picked up some momentum in the closing seconds of the first half with five points scored by Dunham to trail by a more manageable 37-33 going into halftime.

With the loss, Johnson’s season is finished.


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