Another game, another signature reel of Ty Cockfield highlight moves.
The talented senior dropped 44 points, his third 40-plus game in the past eight days, to lead Johnson to an 82-66 win over North Oconee Tuesday night in Oakwood.
The Knights (19-0, 4-0 in Region 8-AAAA) scored 53 second-half points to overtake the visiting Titans and extend Johnson’s undefeated streak to 19. Cockfield drained all 14 of his free throws to ice the win, which puts Johnson in the driver’s seat of Region 8-AAAA.
Yet a slow start, underlined by an early 5-point deficit, was a rankling point for both Cockfield and Johnson coach Steele after the game as Johnson enters the final five games of the regular season.
“Everyone we play is going to give us their best effort, because we’re undefeated,” Steele said. “If you create that situation, you’ve got to give it respect. We’re definitely not peaking.”
The Titans, who have lost four of their last five games, showed they would not be easily intimidated. Ethan Dobberstein (40 points) sank his first four jumpers to anchor an 11-2 North Oconee run that opened the first quarter. Dobberstein, a senior point guard, added 11 of the Titans’ 15 second quarter points to open up a 31-29 halftime lead.
Cockfield said he was surprised at how poorly Johnson’s defense guarded Dobberstein and North Oconee’s guards.
“I haven’t seen a defense that bad, including me, man,” Cockfield said. “We’re getting back cut, we’re face-guarding, watching the ball and we just suck at defense right now. That’s the stuff we’ve got to work on in practice. We’re 19-0, but it isn’t going to be like that for long if we don’t change that.”
The halftime break served Johnson well. The Knights used 3-pointers from Cockfield and senior Mitchell Dunham (15 points) to break open 10-0 and 12-1 runs on each end of the third quarter to open up Johnson’s first double-digit lead of the night.
Cockfield converted several off-balance jumpers, including two from beyond the arc, to help the Knights during a pivotal 27-point third quarter. The senior has one official offer from Cleveland State, but has been entertaining recent calls from Florida, Florida Gulf Coast, Florida A&M, George Mason and Robert Morris.
“My offense is alright, but defense is what I need to fix,” he said. “I don’t want to get to the next level and not play because I have a flaw in my defense ... I’m not happy at all, because sometimes when you win, you feel like you lose.”
Sophomore Jack Chambers (10 points) and Dobberstein combined for two North Oconee 3-pointers that clawed their deficit back to eight with 7:10 left in the game. But Cockfield, who was 0-for-4 from the charity stripe in the first quarter, scored all fourteen of his fourth quarter free throws to keep the Titans at bay.
The senior’s emphatic dunk, expertly set up by an incisive pass from Daemonte Nicholson, pushed the advantage to 72-59 with three minutes left.
The challenge, Steele said, is getting his players to block out the inevitable hype that comes with an undefeated team nearing the playoffs. Buford (9-10) is a half-game back in the region standings after Tuesday’s win over Chestatee.
“I want the kids to see the big picture,” Steele said. “If they want to do something special and make it to Macon, we’ve got to be a defensive-minded team, especially in the first half. Our team has to do it and we’ve talked about it. I can’t control if they’re focused or not. I can try, but ultimately, that’s up to them.”
NORTH OCONEE GIRLS 50, JOHNSON 19: Eight North Oconee players scored at least a field goal for the Titans to send the Lady Knights to their 14th loss of the season.
North Oconee (14-4, 2-1 in Region 8-AAAA) is riding a five-game win streak, thanks to the 31-point victory in Oakwood.
The Lady Knights (5-14, 0-4) were held to just four points in the second quarter as North Oconee built on a 13-4 lead after the opening eight minutes.
Johnson, which has lost five of its last six games, cut the lead to under 30 six minutes into the third with a jumper from Christy Smith. But back-to-back treys a minute later by North Oconee’s Kara Schleter and Amelia Dye restored the comfortable advantage.
Christy Smith and Sarah Williams both led the way for Johnson with seven points apiece. North Oconee’s Emma Williams had the game-high with 10 points.
Johnson is still 0-5 on the road and must travel to take on two Hall County rivals in the next four days, including East Hall (Jan. 23) and West Hall (Jan. 24).