OAKWOOD — Not even a top-seeded Johnson boys basketball team was safe from a first-round upset against a No. 4 seed.
The Knights saw their historic season come to an abrupt end in the opening round of the Class AAAA state playoffs Wednesday in Oakwood, when they were stunned by Shaw in a 54-49 loss.
A melancholy finale to a memorable campaign that included 24 wins and the team’s first region championship since 2005, Johnson (24-5) was unable to match its regular-season tenacity against a Raiders team that offered the Knights a bigger challenge than expected for a No. 4 seed.
But for Johnson coach Jeff Steele, it was nothing short of what he anticipated from the Raiders (18-10).
“We expected everything that we saw,” Steele said. “We knew they would be good. In my opinion, we didn’t get beat all year — we beat ourselves five times.
“We didn’t keep them out of the paint and we didn’t keep them off the glass. That’s the essence of basketball. If you don’t do the little things you’re probably going to get beat.”
The season-ending loss is the Knights’ first since Dec. 28, ending a 14-game winning streak that included an unbeaten run through Region 8-AAAA play. Their 49 points was far below their region-leading season average of 73.
“I hate it for our kids, because we’ve had an awesome season,” Steele said. “An early exit in my opinion, but we do have only one senior and I certainly hope we’ll be back in the same situation next year, and things will be different.”
Johnson didn’t make the win easy for Shaw, even leading the Raiders by one in the third quarter until a buzzer-beater by Josh Jackson put the visitors out of Columbus up 38-37 entering the fourth. It proved to be the Knights’ final lead of the night.
Johnson trailed 46-44 with 1:15 left to play in the game when Drew Dunham stole a misplayed ball by Jackson, giving him an open sprint to the Shaw basket for the potential game-tying shot. He was shoved down and fouled by Jackson on his way up for the layup and slid out of bounds.
Shaken up by the fall, Dunham was unable to take his free throws, and replacement shooter Carter Cagle made 1 of 2 attempts at the line to cut Johnson’s deficit to one.
The Knights would never get closer, as Shaw scored a final basket and four ensuing free-throws to secure the win and advance to the second round of the tournament, where the No. 4 seed out of 5-AAAA will visit Marist.
“We stuck with the scouting report and gameplan,” Raiders coach Terry White said. “We knew they had a couple of guys that could shoot the ball, and we need to stay on them. They did it, and they did a good job with him.”
The loss served as the final high school game for one player, Montrell McKenzie, who finished the game with 12 points. His final basket in a Johnson uniform was a dunk with 4.5 seconds left to play.
He shared the Knights’ scoring lead with James Hodges, who scored eight points in the second half.
“A lot of it wasn’t Montrell’s fault,” Steele said about his lone senior’s low offensive output after a season filled with high-scoring games. “We were very impatient offensively in the first half, and we didn’t give it a chance.”
Johnson controlled the opening period of the game, taking a 16-10 lead at the first buzzer with a 6-2 run to close out the quarter. The Knights led by as much as eight in the second before Shaw went on an 11-2 tear to close out the half, including the go-ahead 3-pointer by Brandon Jackson at the buzzer to put the Raiders up 27-26 at halftime.
Shaw gave up the lead only once in the second half, as Johnson briefly led with 48 seconds left in the third quarter after Dunham made a pair of free-throws.
Cedarius Brantley was the game’s leading scorer, leading the Raiders with 21 points. Joe Parker also reached double figures with 11.
Shaw played without two of its starters, a commonplace for the injury-laden Raiders this year.
“We play a lot of guys during the regular season, in hopes that if something happens, we can recover,” White said. “We’ve dealt with some injuries all year long, so it wasn’t a huge shock to our team.”