Shortly after his team defeated West Forsyth on Friday in the Region 7-AAA boys basketball tournament, Johnson coach Jeff Steele leaned against a wall and exhaled; his program’s four-year state playoff drought was finally over.
“It feels like a big weight has been lifted,” Steele said after the Knights won 51-41 to qualify for the state tournament and advance to the semifinals of the region tournament where they will play West Hall on Monday at Flowery Branch.
“This has been one of our goals since the summer, and we reiterated it before the game and at the half.”
While that message inspired the Knights (16-10), it was an adjustment after the third quarter that propelled them to the win.
After West Forsyth (9-17) cut a 12-point Johnson lead to just four points with 6:35 left to play, Steele called a timeout and told his team to spread the floor, take care of the ball and feed the ball to E.J. Wright so he could distribute the ball out to the perimeter.
That strategy worked to perfection, as Grant Cagle hit a 3-pointer after the timeout to spark a 10-3 run.
“The 3 that Grant hit broke their back,” Steele said. “I’m pleased with our composure down the stretch.”
That was Cagle’s fourth 3-pointer of the game, and first since he made three in a first quarter in which Johnson scored all 18 of its points from beyond the arc.
Cagle and Chris Henry each scored 13 points and Tre Dudley added 10 for the Knights, who haven’t reached the state tournament since 2006 when they lost in the first round to Franklin County.
“We’re just thrilled to get back in,” Steele said. “It’s good for our community, our school and our students.
“I’m glad we can bring a little joy to everybody.”
Fineto Lunghana scored 15 points for West Forsyth, whose season is now complete.