Again and again, coach Jeff Steele credits the Johnson boys basketball team’s success to a close-knit family dynamic.
The Knights certainly looked the part Saturday night, complete with a big, happy postgame reunion at center court of the Frank J. Knight gymnasium.
Ty Cockfield and Roderick English combined for 49 points, Andrew Sims and Laderius Odem each recorded a double-double, and the Knights hoisted their third consecutive Region 8-AAAA championship with an 81-69 victory over Buford at Johnson High.
The Knights are now 27-0 this season and host the No. 4 seed from Region 7-AAAA in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs on Wednesday. Buford (14-12) welcomes the No. 3 seed from Region 7-AAAA in the first round.
“It’s tough to beat the family that we have,” Steele said. “... It’s just special times.
“I’m so proud of these guys. To be 27-0 is mind-boggling to me.”
Cockfield led all scorers with 27 points, while English added 22. Sims (12 points) and Odem (11) were also in double figures and grabbed 10 rebounds apiece.
Tre Hansbrough led Buford with 21 points, and Will Springer added 17.
Johnson won the overall rebounding battle 35-24 with the help of point guard Daemonte Nicholson, who played much bigger than his 5-foot-7 frame by grabbing six rebounds.
“I want to give credit to my two post players,” Steele said of Sims and Odem. “They’re both 6-foot-2 at best. And we knew for us to have a chance, we had to keep (Buford) off the glass, and we did that.”
Cockfield said he and English are as close as any two members of the Knights, and it showed as they led the scoring effort once again.
Their chemistry was never more evident than early in the fourth quarter, when Cockfield stole the ball and passed to English, who passed the ball back to him for a layup that pushed Johnson’s lead to double digits, 59-48, for the first time all night.
The Knights kept the Wolves at arm’s length the rest of the way, something they had not been able to do through the first three quarters.
“We call each other the duo,” Cockfield said. “We work together, we’re always hanging out ... just to create that chemistry.”
Johnson led at the end of each quarter, including 38-33 at halftime, but the Wolves found momentum in the third period behind Hansbrough.
After Johnson pulled ahead 43-36, Hansbrough scored four points during an 8-0 run that put Buford on top 44-43. That was the Wolves’ first lead since they were up 16-15 in the opening minute of the second quarter. Cockfield said Johnson didn’t tense up despite falling behind.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” the senior guard said. “We just continue to play hard and do what we do best and everything else will fall into place.”
Cockfield stopped the run with another of his baskets, and Johnson later closed the quarter on a 9-2 run to pull ahead 55-48 going into the fourth period. English dropped in another basket early in the fourth quarter, before Cockfield’s steal led to his breakaway with English, which put the Knights on top by 11.
Johnson remained ahead by double digits until Taylor Mills (12 points) cut Buford’s deficit to 70-61 with just over two minutes to play.
Hansbrough later cut the gap to eight points, 75-67, with 1:02 remaining, but the Knights iced the victory at the free throw line.
“It always feels great (to win a region title, especially) to be able to do it three years in a row, two of them actually in our gym,” Steele said. “To beat Buford twice in a year in my opinion is an incredible feat.”
BUFORD GIRLS 26, CHESTATEE 10: The halftime score of the Region 8-AAAA girls championship game looked like it belonged on a football scoreboard.
Things didn’t go much smoother in the second half, but by the time the final buzzer sounded, Buford coach Gene Durden was just happy with the outcome.
Buford dethroned reigning Region 8-AAAA champion Chestatee in a clunky defensive battle and secured a No. 1 seed for the Class AAAA state tournament.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a game that was 7-3 (at halftime),” Durden said.
“The biggest thing is, we’re just happy that we won the region tournament. It never gets old. This gives us a chance to play at home, at least two rounds, and we always play better at home.”
Camille Anderson led Buford (25-3) with eight points. Tyler Bennett and Brooklyn Popham scored four points apiece for Chestatee (16-12).
Chestatee’s lone points of the first half came on a Popham 3-pointer, which put Chestatee up 3-2 at the 4:48 mark in the opening quarter. The Lady War Eagles didn’t score again until Bennett hit a free throw at the 4:22 mark of the third quarter.
Anderson scored both of Buford’s baskets in the first quarter, and the second put the Lady Wolves back on top 4-3 going into the second period.
Katy Bisges tacked on a corner 3-pointer just 38 seconds into the second period to push the lead to 7-3, but that was the last time either squad put the ball in the basket before halftime.
The Lady Wolves finally established some breathing room in the third quarter and pushed the lead to double digits, 17-6, when Anderson converted a basket while being fouled, then tacked on the free throw.
Marissa Bruce added a pair of free throws with 1.9 seconds remaining in the third period, and Buford never led by fewer than 13 the rest of the way.