SUGAR HILL – Game after game, opponents remain stumped when it comes to slowing down the Johnson boys’ high-octane offense.
The Knights once again lit up the scoreboard in the Region 8-AAAA tournament Monday, clinching a spot in the championship game with an 84-61 semifinal win over Lumpkin County at Lanier High.
With five players in double figures and 29 successful shots from the field, No. 2 seed Johnson (22-5) led for all 32 minutes of the contest and scattered several quick scoring stretches throughout the game.
Or as Knights coach Jeff Steele coins it, ‘spurt ability.’
“We just wear people down, sometimes,” Steele said. “Our spurt ability is something special with this group, but it drives me insane to have to depend on that. I want more consistency and less spurt ability.”
Johnson likely needs all the consistency it can get by 8:30 p.m. Thursday, when it plays Eastside for the region title and No. 1 seed in the state playoffs.
That not only means another output around the Knights’ average of 80 points per game this season, but also taking care of business at the other end of the court.
“We’re going to have to play better,” Steele said. “I’m not going to take anything away from Lumpkin, because they did a great job. We’re going to have to play with more consistent defense and obviously keep (the finals opponent) off the glass.”
No. 6 seed Lumpkin County (15-12) gave Johnson a couple of scares, cutting the lead to single digits as late as the third quarter.
But a 14-2 Knights run — or spurt — to close out the third was exactly what Johnson needed to gain a comfortable lead the rest of the way and pull out another decisive win.
“Lesson learned, I hope,” Steele said. “I never felt like my kids took them as serious as they needed to. Anything can happen.
“(Lumpkin County coach Chris Guthrie) does a good job with them. He has six or seven seniors, and those seniors show a sense of urgency. You give people like that hope, and we’re lucky we got out of here winning.”
Ty Cockfield finished as Johnson’s leading scorer with 19 points, while James Hodges tallied 16.
Carter Cagle drained three 3-pointers en route to 17 points, and Justin Jones added another two treys to finish with 16. Rod English scored 11 points and added seven rebounds.
Cockfield was a driving force behind Johnson’s hot start, scoring eight first-quarter points to give the Knights a 21-11 advantage going into the second period.
Lumpkin County applied pressure in the second quarter with a 7-3 run to open the period. The Indians got within six midway through the quarter and trailed just 28-22.
Cagle came alive with back-to-back 3-pointers to put Johnson up 34-24, but Lumpkin County answered with two of its own. Daniel McCrary’s trey with 1:32 left put the Indians down by five, their smallest deficit of the quarter.
Cagle hit another basket and added a pair of free throws to put his team back up by nine and cap off his 10-point, three-rebound quarter. That helped Johnson take a 41-30 lead into the half.
“I’m really happy to see Carter (play well),” Steele said. “He’s been a little frustrated lately. To see shots fall for him, obviously I’m happy but I’m sure he’s happy, too.”
Lumpkin County continued to battle in the third quarter, getting within five of Johnson at 49-44 courtesy of Malik Anderson’s 3-pointer with 3:20 left in the period.
The Indians were overwhelmed by the Knights’ scoring run afterwards, and Johnson took a 66-48 lead in the third.
The Knights enjoyed another 9-0 run in the fourth, mostly on free throws by Cockfield, and outscored Lumpkin County 18-13 in the period.
Johnny Gilreath led the Indians with 15 points, while Anderson hit three 3-pointers to tally 11. Austin Holman also scored 11 with six rebounds.
Despite the loss, Lumpkin County remains headed to the state playoffs courtesy of its 70-65 quarterfinals victory over Lanier on Saturday. The Indians play for third place tonight, back at Lanier.
CHESTATEE GIRLS 36, STEPHENS COUNTY 29: The Lady War Eagles’ second-lowest point total of the season and lowest in any win was still good enough to put them back in the region championship game.
Tyler Bennett scored a game-high 13 points to keep top-seeded Chestatee (23-4) in contention for its second straight Region 8-AAAA girls title. The championship game is at 7 p.m. Tuesday against Eastside.
Bennett was the only player for either team in double figures in a gritty game that took place mostly inside the paint, with plenty of rebounds up for grabs.
Deanna Bradberry hit a pair of 3-pointers to score eight, and Kayla Watson and Savanna Long each accounted for five points for the Lady War Eagles.
Chestatee held Stephens County (15-12) scoreless in the first quarter, but only scored five points of its own. The Lady War Eagles led 13-10 at halftime and 24-19 through three.
Nikelsa Owens and Dresha Merritt each scored seven points for the Lady Indians, who play Walnut Grove in the third-place game tonight. Merritt and Emily Mote each pulled down 10 rebounds.