The Johnson boys basketball team didn’t let a bad start derail its region opener.
The Knights left the first quarter of Friday’s game against Stephens County with a surprising two-point deficit, but shrugged it off and still won big with a 77-38 rout of the Indians in the first Region 8-AAAA game for both teams.
The defending region champions trailed 14-12 at the first buzzer, struggling to find the net — a rare form for a team known for its high-scoring contests.
By the second buzzer, scoring issues and defensive lapses were an afterthought. Johnson (11-3, 1-0) outscored Stephens County 30-9 in the second quarter and dominated the rest of the way.
“In the second quarter we locked them down defensively,” Knights coach Jeff Steele said. “We got into transition before they could even get set up in that zone. Once we get to doing that, there’s not a whole lot of teams that can run up and down with us, in my opinion.”
For a team that rarely trails early, it was a quick turnaround that turned into Johnson’s biggest win of the season.
And with each Region 8-AAAA team playing each other just once this season, every win the Knights can get hereafter is crucial to the team’s goal of winning the region for the second straight year.
So much, Steele considered the win more important than his team’s historic Lanierland Tournament victory last month.
“I told the kids before the game, ‘this might be hard to fathom, but this game is more important to me than the finals in Lanierland, to me,’” he said. “This is the first game of region, and we’re all working for the seeds in the region tournament.”
James Hodges scored a team-high 17 points, including 13 in the first half and nine in the Johnson’s monster second quarter that featured a 22-4 run to put the Knights up 34-18 midway through the period.
Carter Cagle hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight points with four rebounds in the quarter. He eventually finished the game with 13 points and eight boards.
Johnson’s rejuvenated play left it with a 42-23 lead at halftime.
“We came out passive,” Steele said. “We knew they were going to play zone, and we knew we needed to be aggressive against it.
“Sometimes kids misconstrue what you mean by aggressive. To me, being aggressive isn’t standing 30 feet from the basket and standing around the perimeter. Being aggressive is attacking gaps, drawing two of them and kicking it out to attack the zone first. “
Johnson outscored Stephens County 16-9 in the third to extend its lead, using a 14-5 rebounding advantage to stay comfortably ahead.
Roderick English had seven boards in third alone, and finished the game with a team-high 14 to go along with his 10 points.
The Knights finished off the Indians by holding them to six points in the fourth and just two baskets from the field.
Stephens County (2-10, 0-1) had no players in double figures, with Jamal Winters scoring eight to lead the Indians.
Johnson hosts West Hall in a non-region game today at 7:30 p.m.
STEPHENS COUNTY GIRLS 59, JOHNSON 34: Sarah Williams scored 19 of her team-high 23 points in the second half, but the Lady Knights couldn’t open region play with a win.
Williams hit four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and accounted for all but five points in Johnson’s second half. She also recorded a team-high five rebounds.
The Lady Knights (1-10, 0-1 Region 8-AAAA) led until midway through the first quarter, when Stephens County used a 22-0 run to take control of the contest. Johnson didn’t break the run until the 0:43 mark of the second quarter.
Emily Mote led Stephens County (9-7, 1-0) with 14 points. Mya Cleveland added 10 points, and Kentasia Turner led the Lady Indians with eight rebounds.
Johnson hosts West Hall today at 6 p.m.