Kevin Strickland has already witnessed his Chestatee High boys basketball program win games in a variety of ways this season.
Whether it’s been from behind, holding on or pulling away from the pack, the third-year coach has seen it all. And for the second time this season, the War Eagles were able to close it out from the free throw line Friday night against Johnson.
The War Eagles were a near-perfect 11 of 12 from the charity stripe, including 6 of 7 during the third period, and got a pair of well-timed baskets to hold on for a 62-59 victory in Gainesville.
Cameron Gwyn, who racked up a team-high 21 points, was a perfect 5 of 5 from the line for Chestatee (5-1), which snapped a two-game losing streak to Johnson and captured their first Hall County victory on the young season.
“That has been big for us all season,” Strickland said. “We finished the game versus Loganville going 13-for-14 down the stretch, and finished it again today. They’re good shooters, and they put the time in for it. Luckily, it’s panned out in the games and it’s proving their work’s paid off.”
As for Johnson (1-2), its 5 of 15 mark proved the deciding factor in the Knights failing to take care of business in a rivalry bout that had little breathing room from start to finish.
“With free-throws and giving up some second-chance opportunities there and rebounds were critical,” First-year Johnson coach Brandon Pickell said. “That was kind-of the game.”
The Knights did manage to keep the pressure on Chestatee for the entirety as they got a big night from senior Danny Garcia, who scored 11 of his game-high 23 points in the final period and helped flip an eight-point deficit to a two-point Johnson lead with 3:03 left to play. Garcia’s second trey of the quarter put the Knights ahead 57-55.
The War Eagles scored the next five points behind a Jonah Bull layup and contested trey from Brenton Nicholson, who gave the hosts a 60-57 edge with 1:51 left.
After both squads traded turnovers on three-straight possessions, Johnson came out of it with possession and a chance to knot the score for a third time in the period. But Garcia’s final loft from deep outside the arc bounced off the rim and rolled out of bounds, giving Chestatee the ball back inside 30 seconds left. Gwyn then put the game to rest as he scored a delayed layup underneath off a long inbound pass in the closing seconds.
“Anytime both schools have a Gainesville address, it’s gonna be tight,” Pickell said. “We told the guys before the game that these are gonna be the games that you remember when you’re done (playing) — on the road, in a hostile environment. They’ve been playing these kids since they were in middle school. … Coach Strickland does a great job with that program. They came very prepared and they shoot the lights out.”
It was indeed a memorable one. Chestatee carried a 35-32 lead into intermission, only after a back-and-forth first half that included seven lead changes — five in the first few minutes of the opening period. And in the final minutes of the game, both coaches were given sideline warnings for venturing outside their boxes as tension mounted on the floor.
After trailing by four after the first frame, Johnson opened the second period on a 6-0 spurt as its got a pair of layups from Jesse Harbin (15 points), his second coming off a steal and finish to put the Knights ahead 25-22. But Chestatee quickly answered. Nicholson drained his third trey of the contest to knot the score at 25-all, and Gwyn added another stepback 3-pointer minutes later to give the War Eagles a 30-26 lead.
Chestatee went on to get plenty of production from outside the arc in the game as it combined for 11 treys, including five from Nicholson (17 points) and four from Gwyn.
“I say it all the time, if I had a 6-foot-8 kid, we’d go down and score low. But we don’t,” joked Strickland. “We have a lot of kids that work really-really hard on their shots, and that’s the way we’re gonna play. We’re averaging 31 (3-point attempts) a game, and it’s paid off for (a) 5-1 (start).”
Also for Johnson, senior Jonathan Williams was the third Knights starter to score in double digits with 10 points.
The War Eagles face Lumpkin County next at the North Georgia Showcase tourney at 11 a.m. today in Dahlonega. The Knights visit Commerce on Saturday for a non-region game at 6:30 p.m.
CHESTATEE GIRLS 59, JOHNSON 18: Maggie McNair (11 points, two steals) drained a 3 for the game’s first basket less than a minute from the opening tip, and Chestatee quickly set the tone for a successful night from beyond the arc.
Seven of the Lady War Eagles’ nine treys came in the first half — getting two apiece from McNair, Christina Garcia and Morgan McNeal. Chestatee (4-3) also forced 15 Johnson turnovers on defense to build a 38-10 lead at the break.
Chestatee’s ninth and final trey came from Carragan Moody, who’s loft from outside the left wing stretched the margin to 38 with 4:01 left to play.
Christina Garcia was another Chestatee starter to lead the scoring efforts behind McNair with nine points, followed by Nicole Sedwick with seven and McNeal with six. Logan Wiggins snagged a team-high eight rebounds for the Lady War Eagles.
For Johnson, Jazmyn Gooch led the Lady Knights (1-2) with six points.