Just when it seemed like the Johnson boys basketball team finally had some breathing room, King’s Ridge Christian wouldn’t go away.
The Knights built a 49-31 third-quarter lead, but they had to hold on for a 77-70 victory Monday in Oakwood on the opening night of the two-day Johnson High School Tip Off Classic.
Johnson’s Ty Cockfield led the win with 32 points, with Roderick English adding 12 and Laderius Odem pitching in 10.
“We can’t take teams lightly,” Cockfield said.
The Knights improved to 4-0 ahead of Tuesday's 7:30 p.m. tournament finale against North Cobb Christian, but Johnson coach Jeff Steele wasn’t too happy with the process that led to the latest win for his group. He said the Knights had taken a major step forward with an 88-76 victory against Whitefield Academy on Saturday.
“They scrapped, and we got undisciplined,” Steele said. “That’s not the mark of a championship quality team. If you want to play with the big boys, when you build a lead, you’ve got to keep building the lead and not get sloppy and do things wrong and take quick shots and gamble on defense. All that stuff led to them getting back (in the game).”
Jack Armstrong tallied a game-high 38 points in leading the Class A Tigers’ comeback, which brought King’s Ridge within 61-58 at the 5:13 mark on a pair of Jake Hiser free throws.
Cockfield responded with a pair of free throws 13 seconds later, then made a runner for a 65-58 edge. The lead would never be fewer than five points the rest of the way.
Hiser finished with 17 points for the Tigers.
A dunk by Cockfield on an alley-oop from English with 5:51 left in the third quarter made it 41-27 after Johnson had led 29-24 at the half. Even a technical on Cockfield for celebrating couldn’t slow the Knights’ momentum at that point, with an Andrew Sims layup and 3-pointers from Mitchell Dunham and Yaz Hagins pushing the lead to 49-31.
That’s when King’s Ridge sprang to life, jumpstarted by a pair of Armstrong 3-pointers as it closed the third quarter on a 15-4 run. Hiser’s steal and layup at the third-quarter buzzer trimmed Johnson’s edge to 53-46.
Both teams struggled with foul trouble, and three players, including Cockfield, fouled out. The Johnson senior said he and his teammates have to adjust to the way games are being officiated.
“We have to get better on defense with sliding our feet, staying in front of them without touching them,” Cockfield said.
Johnson never trailed in the contest but didn’t extend the lead beyond six points until the second half.
“We won, but sometimes when you win, you really lose,” Steele said. “And I’m trying to make my kids understand that. I don’t like taking steps back after we beat a quality team like Whitefield, not to take anything away from (King’s Ridge). But it was us tonight more so than it was the other team. It was us not being disciplined. It was us hurrying through our offense, us reaching and grabbing, not moving our feet, us not rebounding.”
Even though the scoreboard came out in Johnson’s favor Monday, Steele knows his team has plenty of work to do.
“I just want us to be more consistent because I don’t want to see them crying the last game of the year because we let stuff like this happen to us too often,” Steele said. “So I want things to be a progression.”
JOHNSON GIRLS 46, KING’S RIDGE CHRISTIAN 31: The Lady Knights improved to 2-2 behind 19 points from Sarah Williams.
Kimmie Brady added 14 points for Johnson, which hosts North Cobb Christian at 6 p.m. Tuesday.