The Johnson High boys basketball team gave it their all, but the senior-laden Avondale Blue Devils’ consistency on the boards and on defense were too much to overcome in the Johnson High Gobbler Classic, as Avondale won 73-63 on Tuesday in Oakwood.
In the girls championship, Rabun County held off Jackson County 52-49.
Points off turnovers and rebounding helped the Blue Devils (3-0) to a 50-35 lead with three minutes remaining in the third. But the Knights (2-1) rallied behind the individual effort of junior guard Matt Hollis, who scored 16 points in the final 2:22 to give Johnson a 52-51 lead going into the fourth.
“All I know is we were down by 15,” said Hollis. “And coach told us, he said, ‘Someone has to step up,’ and I just wanted to step up for my team, because I didn’t want us to get blown out in our gym, in our tournament.”
During the run, Hollis, who finished with a game-high 28 points, drilled four 3-pointers. With 23.3 seconds left in the third, he was fouled with an open lane to the basket, giving him two free throws and the Knights the ball back. After he made both free throws, he hit his fourth 3 of the quarter the ensuing possession.
The Knights took an 54-51 lead — their largest of the game — early in the fourth quarter before the Blue Devils went on a 16-4 run that put Johnson away.
The run was one of many Avondale used to control the game. They opened the contest with a 13-2 run and led 30-14 midway through the second quarter. But Johnson matched each run — the Knights trailed 34-32 at halftime.
“That was a good team we played tonight,” first-year Blue Devils coach Bob Askew said. “They were very competitive and didn’t fold when the pressure was on. I think our conditioning really extended us tonight. And the senior leadership really stood out tonight.”
While Knights coach Jeff Steele applauded Johnson’s effort to stay in the game, he said the team can’t rely on runs such as Hollis’ to win games.
“It shouldn’t come to that,” he said. “It should be more consistency. As a coach, you want that predictability and consistency, and that comes down to the little things. To win, you have to play defense and rebound, because you can control that every night. You’re not going to make shots every night.
Steele expects the Knights to improve in those areas as the season goes on — Johnson lost nine seniors from last year’s 16-13 team and has just three this year.
“We’re young and we’ve got to correct some things and that’s where we are,” he said.
Hollis was the only double-digit scorer for the Knights. Jalen Bowens and Ty Odem each chipped in nine. The Blue Devils’ balanced attack was led by Marcus Carter (20 points), Jordan Forte (16), Jaquan Johnson (15), and Troy Wilson (4).
RABUN COUNTY GIRLS 52, JACKSON COUNTY 49: The Lady Panthers (1-2) trailed Rabun (4-0) 47-42 with three minutes left when Ashley Skelton scored five-straight points to tie the game 47-all. But Jackson County could never take the lead and Skelton had the ball stolen before she could attempt the game-tying 3 in the final seconds.
“The kids battled back and got in the ball game, but they gave up too many easy buckets,” Lady Panthers first-year coach John Hawley said. “Not jumpers, underneath baskets. But they’re still learning the new system and what they need to do on the floor at times.
“They’re doing some good things.”