On a night where Johnson needed a strong offensive showing to secure a victory, Ty Cockfield answered the call.
The senior guard scored a season-high 42 points, including 17 in a manic fourth quarter, to temper a late Buford comeback and spur the Knights to a 100-89 victory on Tuesday night in Buford. Johnson (16-0, 2-0 Region 8-AAAA) led by as much as 21 in the win, which keeps the Knights undefeated heading into their final eight games of the regular season.
“That’s what we really want,” said Cockfield, who has entertained recent visits from Virginia Tech, Tennessee and Georgia Southern. “That’s what we hope for and train for in practice, but at the end of the day, it’s all up to God.”
Up by one heading into the second quarter, Johnson opened up a 13-2 run on jumpers from Cockfield and Roderick English (24 points). The highlight of the streak saw Cockfield strip Buford’s Devin Neal in transition before sending a nicely-weighted pass to English, who finished the layup and gave Johnson its first double digit lead of the night with 3:39 left in the half.
The Knights held their hosts to just four field goals in the second while scoring on ten to open up a 42-29 lead at halftime. Cockfield’s first 3-pointer of the night, where he controlled and shot a wayward pass meant for Daemonte Nicholson, gave Johnson its 50th point of the night before his layup a minute later pushed the Knights’ lead to 21 on the back of a 7-2 run in the middle of the third.
“I’m just glad Ty’s on my team,” said Johnson coach Jeff Steele. “I don’t know what I’d do if he wasn’t. The chemistry we have, the family atmosphere we’ve had, you know, it’s tough to beat family.”
It took a furious run by the Wolves (7-8, 1-1) at the end of the third as Johnson’s starters began to relax on defense.
Tre Hansbrough scored eight of his team-high 24 points in the final five minutes of the third as Buford scrapped in the paint to try and cut into the Johnson lead. The Wolves would gain some momentum when junior Kyrin Galloway (8 points) and senior Taylor Mills picked up transition layups to reign the advantage back to 12 and cap an 11-2 Buford run.
Hansbrough’s old-fashioned three-point play with a minute gone in the fourth gave the home team hope when his layup found just enough contact from English on the way to the rim.
But English and Cockfield combined for three straight baskets within 45 seconds to keep Johnson in control despite Buford’s five treys in the final eight minutes.
“We’ve got to do a better job defensively, but we came into a tough environment and outscored them tonight,” Steele said. “I hate to give up 89 I almost quit doing what we’ve been doing (man-to-man defense) because I wasn’t sure if we could guard them, but we stuck with it and if we have to give them an extra step just to stay in front of them, we’ll do that.”
Cockfield saved his best move of the night, a flowing reverse layup to give Johnson its 91st point with less than three minutes remaining, which would put a definitive end to Buford’s comeback attempt.
His two made free throws in the final nine seconds pushed the advantage back to double digits.
“When you’re playing a good team, you’ve got to be expecting something like that,” Cockfield said. “We knew we weren’t going to come in here and blow them out. Hansbrough was big for them, he kept them in the game, but we had to stay focused and it came down to who really wanted it more.”
The Knights will travel to White County on Friday for an 8:30 p.m. tip before returning home to face Apalachee, which is riding a 6-game win streak.
Johnson has a realistic shot of going unbeaten in the regular season, as long as the team handles its business in the final stretch. The Knights’ final eight opponents had a combined record of 63-63 as of Tuesday afternoon.
Steele said he’s more concerned with the games ahead than he is about the record. Johnson has not played White County yet this season, but beat Apalachee by seven last month in Winder.
“I don’t know if I want us to (go undefeated),” he said. “But we’ve got to go to a tough place on Friday. It’ll be ruckus in there, they’ll scratch and claw. They’re a bunch of kids with heart and then we’ve got Apalachee coming to our place. Anything’s possible, but we’ll keep our nose to the grindstone and keep them humble and hungry.”
BUFORD GIRLS 72, JOHNSON 21: Four different Lady Wolves scored in double digits to help Buford to its second win in Region 8-AAAA with a rout over Johnson on Tuesday night.
Buford (13-3, 2-0 Region 8-AAAA) opened the game with a 17-2 hot streak before ending the first quarter up by 24.
Senior point guard Sarah Williams led the Lady Knights (4-12, 0-2) with 15 points and three of her team’s four 3-pointers. But Johnson was held to a single field goal in both of the opening two quarters, a 3-pointer by Leslie Ulloa and a jumper by Sarah Hodge.
Buford added 18 in the second quarter to end the first half up 46-9.
Chandler Hall led the Lady Wolves with fourteen points while starters Camille Anderson (10 points), Katy Bisges (10 points) and Corey Staples (12 points) got rest early in the second half.
Buford has won 10 of its last 11 games, while Johnson has dropped its last 10 of 11 games. The Lady Knights are back on the road to take on White County on Friday in Cleveland. Buford will travel to North Hall on Friday for a 7 p.m. tip.