Behind smothering defense and Ty Cockfield’s game-high 31 points, Johnson’s victory over Southeast Whitfield was never in question.
The Knights now have to hope it didn’t come at too high of a price.
Johnson defeated Southeast Whitfield 72-44 in the opening round of the Class AAAA playoffs on Thursday at the Frank J. Knight gymnasium in Oakwood, but second-leading scorer Rod English left the game late in the third quarter with an ankle injury and his status is uncertain for the Knights’ second-round game against West Laurens.
English had to be helped off the court after landing awkwardly on his ankle, but Johnson coach Jeff Steele said the injury might not be as bad as it looked.
The Knights (28-0) will need the senior forward healthy if they hope to remain unbeaten and make a deep playoff run.
“We obviously need him,” Cockfield said. “(He’s our) second-leading scorer and leading rebounder. He’s a big piece to the team.”
It had been smooth sailing for the Region 8-AAAA No. 1 seed Knights against Region 7-AAAA No. 4 seed Southeast Whitfield (11-15) until English went down with 2 1/2 minutes remaining in the third period.
Cockfield scored 10 of his team’s first 12 points, and Johnson broke the game open with an 11-0 run that began in the closing seconds of the first period and extended through the first few minutes of the second quarter.
Johnson capped off the run when Mitchell Dunham stole the ball and delivered a long pass to Cockfield, who dunked it to put the Knights on top 31-11 with 5:23 remaining in the second quarter.
Steele credited his players for their defensive efforts.
“I don’t know how many deflections we had, but it was a good bit,” Steele said. “That’s very disruptive. As long as we can give energy on the defensive end and rebound the basketball, we’ll have a chance to play with a lot of people.”
Cockfield had 21 points at halftime and broke the 30-point mark, despite sitting out the entire fourth quarter. Dunham and Michael Garcia added eight points apiece for the Knights.
“Coach told me from the start to just come out and be aggressive,” Cockfield said. “When I came out I just saw a lot of open gaps.”
Another breakaway dunk by Cockfield extended the Knights’ lead to 55-24 late in the third period. Johnson’s lead grew to as much as 40 points early in the fourth quarter before Steele emptied his bench.
Ty Pendley led Southeast Whitfield with 20 points.
The Knights’ game against the Raiders was originally scheduled for Wednesday before being pushed back a day due to the icy conditions that affected much of Northeast Georgia. Another round of winter weather is forecasted for Friday and Saturday and could delay the Knights’ second round contest as well.
West Laurens (22-7), the No. 2 seed from Region 2, defeated Westover 72-60 in the first round.
Whenever the Knights host the Raiders in the second round, they’ll be seeking their first berth in the state quarterfinals under Steele.
“We’ve just got to put the pieces together,” Cockfield said.
“Basketball is like a big puzzle when it comes to (being) teammates and stuff like that. If we all put the pieces together, I think we can do it. We always want to be better than the last year, and I think we’re doing that so far.”