OAKWOOD — Fundamental skill is a necessity for any team hoping to be a contender.
Heart, hustle and leadership are add-ons, but those very aspects led Johnson to a 58-51 win over Class AAA’s sixth-ranked West Hall on Friday night at West Hall High.
“I’m thrilled,” Johnson coach Jeff Steele said. “Write that everywhere, I’m just thrilled.”
With the win, Johnson avenged its 72-58 Lanierland finals loss to the Spartans.
“This means more to me than that because it’s subregion,” Steele said. “Anybody can beat anybody especially on our side and for us to come in here and win is big.”
The Knights (7-5, 1-1 Region 7B-AAA) held the Spartans (14-3, 0-2) to their lowest point total of the season and only one offensive rebound in the second half, both marks of heart and hustle.
“This game was all about heart for my guys,” Steele said. “For 32 minutes they stayed with the plan.”
Johnson senior standout Devaris Finch played the entire fourth quarter with four fouls, yet didn’t let that stop him from grabbing a win-sealing offensive rebound in traffic with 25 seconds to go, a mark of leadership.
“(Finch’s leadership in the game) almost choked me up,” Steele said. “It’s something we’ve been preaching to him about not getting his head down and not letting people take him out of his game.
“He ran our team tonight like we’ve wanted him to the past two years.”
West Hall’s first and only lead of the game came at the five-minute mark of the first quarter when
Rodney Gibson hit a fadeaway jumper in the lane to put his team up 6-4.
It was all Johnson from there, as the Knights went on a 14-2 run capped by a Mick Shannon layup to end the first with an 18-13 lead.
The Spartans pulled within two points several times during the course of the game, but couldn’t capitalize when they needed to.
In the third, after a 3-pointer by Jarquise Young and six straight free throws by Marquise and Shunquez Stephens, West Hall had momentum and was down only two at 36-34.
Defensive letdowns, however, allowed Johnson to go on a 7-0 run to end the third.
After a Kavon Williams’ 3-pointer cut Johnson’s lead to five points late in the fourth, West Hall seemed poised to take control when Shunquez Stephens stole the Knights’ ensuing inbounds pass.
The Spartans, however, couldn’t convert on the offensive possession and after Johnson’s Michael Kimbrell hustled to save the rebound, the Knights scored on a fastbreak layup.
“We were hungry from the beginning,” Steele said. “We just wanted the game worse than they did tonight.”
Further evidenced by the play of Michael Bond and Tre Dudley who, between them, had 29 rebounds, including seven in the fourth and 11 points.
“Bond and Dudley were huge for us tonight,” Steele said. “Our kids are starting to figure it out and play their roles and it’s exciting to watch.”
Shunquez Stephens and Devaris Finch were the game’s only double-digit scorers.
Finch led the Knights with 12 points, Stephens had a game-high 14 points and 12 rebounds for the Spartans who have lost two straight subregion games.
Johnson returns to action at 7:30 tonight when it plays host to Hart County. The Spartans next play at
7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Flowery Branch.
West Hall girls 45, Johnson 22
Up only six at the start of the second half, the Lady Spartans outscored Johnson 27-10 in the second half to win the game.
Jayla Moon led West Hall (6-9, 1-1 Region 7B-AAA) with 12 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Amber Johnson and Bailey Soucie each scored 10 for the Lady Spartans.
Johnson (0-10, 0-2) was led by Ansley Benefield’s six points.
The Lady Spartans next play at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Flowery Branch. Johnson returns to action at 6 tonight when it plays host to Hart County.