ATLANTA — With a game on the line, special players step up.
Down two points with two minutes left to play, Johnson’s Devaris Finch scored his team’s last six points to lead the Knights to a 63-58 win over Class AAAA’s Harris County on Wednesday at Philips Arena.
The late-game takeover was by design and worked to perfection.
While Johnson (5-3) coach Jeff Steele preached to his team to only allow one shot on the defensive end, he put the ball in Finch’s hands and cleared it out for his playmaker on the offensive end.
"He’s shooting like 90 percent from the free throw line," Steele said. "He didn’t do all that well today (7-of-12), but I think the environment had to do with that.
"He’s been making plays for us all year, he handles the ball and pressure well. We got what we wanted out of that."
Finch finished with a game-high 27 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter.
Johnson stormed out to an 11-point lead with a balanced first quarter offensive attack.
Six Knights’ players contributed, with Finch leading the way with nine points including a hard-fought offensive rebound and putback that swished as the first quarter buzzer sounded.
Harris County (4-3) countered the Knights’ momentum with an 8-2 run to start the second quarter, capped by an Anthony Smith steal and two-handed dunk.
Smith finished with a team-high 14 points.
The Tigers managed to tie the game at 25 before Johnson once again found its footing, this time in the form of two Finches.
Devaris and his cousin Brandon scored four each to lead their team on an 8-0 run that took the Knights into halftime with a six-point lead.
With the exception of an early second-quarter letdown, Johnson dominated the first half in every aspect.
That wasn’t the case in the second half, however, as Harris County took control of the game with intense defensive play and strong rebounding.
Smith brought his team within one in the third quarter on a steal and floater, only to have Devaris Finch respond with his first 3-pointer of the night.
The Tigers ended the period down just two points, sparked by the play of 6-foot-7 sophomore center LaMichael Fanning.
Fanning scored his team’s final four points of the third quarter, including an offensive rebound and putback at the buzzer.
The Tigers took their first lead with five minutes left in the game on an offensive rebound and putback by Marcus Smith and would take the lead prior to Finch’s late-game heroics on yet another offensive rebound and subsequent hook shot by Fanning.
"(Rebounding) is our problem," Steele said. "That’s happening in Hall County too.
"If we keep working on the little things, maybe we’ll eventually give some people some problems."
In the waning minutes of the game, Finch stepped up offensively, but the defense had a hand in it too, causing four Tigers’ turnovers in the last minute and half while allowing only two points.
The Knights return to action at 8:30 p.m. Jan. 2 when they travel to Chestatee for their first region matchup of the season.
Harris County girls 51, Johnson 45
The Lady Tigers ended the game on an 8-3 run to steal a win Wednesday afternoon at Philips Arena.
Johnson’s Ansley Benefield hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give her team its first lead of the contest late in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, a Lady Knights’ defensive miscue that led to an easy Harris County layup by Ashley Delaney followed those two shots, and gave way to the run that would put the Lady Tigers on top for good.
Johnson was led by Caitlin Ivey with 12 points and Benfield with 10,
Tiffany Jones led Harris County with a game-high 21 points including a big 3-pointer with under a minute to play that put her team up by four.
Ashley Delaney added 11 points for the Lady Tigers.