It’s said that quality matters more than quantity and Johnson’s Devaris Finch is a living example.
Having played only five minutes of the first half due to foul trouble, the Knights’ leading scorer hit for five points during an 8-0 run to start the second half that gave his team a double-digit lead and was the catalyst in a 67-66 win against Chestatee on Friday afternoon at Chestatee High.
“I’m pleased that we found a way to win as poorly as we did some things,” Johnson (6-3) coach Jeff Steele said. “And that’s to take nothing away from Chestatee, they played a great game. But we’ve got to do a little better job when our ‘best player’s’ not in the game.”
Johnson’s ability to win despite being without its leading scorer came by way of offensive execution at the end of every quarter and role players stepping up.
Grant Cagle hit a 3-pointer at the first quarter buzzer to give the Knights a one-point lead, and Chris Henry hit back-to-back 3-pointers off assists from Mick Shannon at the end of the second quarter to give Johnson a two-point lead heading into the half.
It was senior role player Quintavious Cheek, however, who picked the perfect time to have his best outing of the season. Cheek finished with a game-high 19 points, including 3-of-4 made free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
“He just played like a senior should, like a lot of the other seniors didn’t,” Steele said. “He was one that took it upon himself and we said in the last three minutes that if we didn’t have him in the game, it would have been a whole different story.”
The War Eagles jumped out early going on an 11-4 run in the first quarter to seemingly take early control of a game marred by Johnson fouls. Chestatee (4-7) was in the bonus at the three-minute mark of the first quarter.
The Knights came back with a run of their own tying the game at 15 on a Matt Hollis floater in the lane. After Chestatee’s Brandon Smith gave his team the lead back on a fadeaway bank shot, Cagle hit a 3-pointer, his only shot of the night.
Smith finished with 13 points, four assists and three steals. Branden Jovaag finished as the team’s leading scorer with 16 points.
A back-and-forth second quarter ended in a one-man 6-0 run when Henry, who finished as the Knights’ second leading scorer with 13 points, hit two straight 3-pointers to give Johnson a two-point lead.
“Chris has been making big shots for us all year,” Steele said, “so that’s not unexpected from him.”
After a Finch-led 8-0 run to start the second half gave Johnson a double-digit lead that it would manage to keep for the better part of the third quarter, Finch picked up his third and fourth fouls and was once again resigned to the bench.
Chestatee took full advantage, pulling within seven points by the start of the fourth on the play of Lamar Brooks who had nine of his 15 points in the third quarter to keep his team within striking distance.
The War Eagles started the fourth on a 5-0 run, making the score 54-52. After another Johnson run, this one led by Brandon Finch’s four points, gave the Knights an eight-point cushion, Devaris Finch fouled out.
With its go-to guy, best ball-handler and best free-throw shooter on the bench, Johnson let Chestatee climb back in the game.
The War Eagles pulled within one point with just over one minute left on a Brooks 3-pointer, but then fouled Cheek, who proved to be more than reliable.
Cheek was the exception to a fourth quarter in which the Knights were only 4-of-10 from the free throw line. Had it not been for the senior hitting 3-of-4 down the stretch, another Brooks 3-pointer with seconds remaining would have led to a much different outcome than the one-point Johnson win.
“I am proud for him because he needed that,” Steele said. “He’s a confidence kind of player and I’m glad he can build on what he did here tonight.
“Maybe we can too, maybe having to play without Devaris will help us in the long run and maybe we’ll be able to draw from that later on.”
Johnson returns to action at 7 tonight at Blessed Trinity while Chestatee next plays host to North Hall at 7 tonight.
Chestatee 55, Johnson 23
After Johnson scored the game’s first two points, the Lady War Eagles went on a 17-2 run that put the game out of reach before the start of the second quarter.
Chelsea Wilson led Chestatee with 15 points, Peyton Robertson had 11 points and eight rebounds and Rachel Kelley added 10 points and seven rebounds.
The Lady Knights, who were held to just three third-quarter points, were led by Ansley Benefield with six points.
Chestatee next plays host to North Hall at 5:30 tonight while Johnson travels to Blessed Trinity where it will play at 5:30 tonight.