OAKWOOD — The Johnson boys basketball team began the game by face-guarding Chestatee’s Parker Smith, intent on not letting him catch the ball.
Smith took the challenge to heart and 53 points, 11 rebounds, 32 minutes and a school record later he had led his team to a 89-76 win over Johnson on Friday night at Johnson High.
"I’m kind of speechless and that’s saying a lot from an Italian guy from the north," Chestatee coach Russ Triaga said. "I just want to go home and go to sleep and wake up tomorrow knowing he’s still on our team."
The 53 points pushed Smith past former teammate Jesus Cantu atop the the all-time Chestatee scoring list with 1,448 points. Cantu finished his four years at Chestatee with 1,428 points.
The first half of Friday night’s game in Oakwood was a back-and-forth battle marred by fouls.
Nine total fouls were committed in the first two minutes of the game and each team was in the bonus with three minutes to go in the first quarter.
The Knights (6-4, 3-3) took an early three-point lead on a layup by junior Jim Orr and the first 3-pointer of the night by Brandon Sloan and extended their lead on a rebound and putback back Orr off a Sloan 3-point attempt.
Chestatee (7-2, 4-1) came back, however, and tied the game at 10 on two made free throws by junior shooting guard Branden Jovaag.
The War Eagles took their first lead of the contest with three minutes left in the game, following a Johnson turnover, on two made free throws by Smith and took a four-point lead on their next possession via a layup.
The Knights responded with some made shots of their own and retook the lead with less than two minutes to play only to have Smith put his team up by one on a layup at the first-quarter buzzer.
"They (Johnson) are a good team and they play hard from start to finish," Triaga said. "You think you’ve got a 10-point lead and are in good shape and you aren’t. Those guys have a pretty good idea of what they are doing."
Smith and Sloan, who finished the night as their teams’ leading scorers, ended the first quarter with 12 points each.
The second quarter was the same as the first with each team vying for a lead greater than four and failingj. That is, until Smith decided it was time to takeover.
The War Eagles went on a 12-4 run midway through the second quarter to take a 45-36 lead. Nine of the 12 points were scored by Smith.
With 40 seconds to go in the half Johnson pulled within five at 47-42 on a 3-pointer by Colby Horne and, thanks to a Chestatee turnover on its subsequent possession, went into halftime down only three after another score by Horne.
"We talked at halftime about regaining our composure," Triaga said. "We were ahead by three and didn’t want to panic but wanted to play a better game in the second half."
Smith opened the second half with a 3-pointer and Jovaag, on Chestatee’s next possession, hit a layup to push their team’s lead to eight.
Jovaag finished with 23 points.
Smith’s third and final 3-pointer of the night, with 4:11 to go in the third quarter, gave his team a 13-point lead. The Knights never got closer the seven points for the remainder of the contest.
Smith, a Tennesse State signee, finished the game with 53 points on 17-of-25 shooting from the field including 3-of-8 from the 3-point line. Smith also went 16-of-17 from the free throw line.
"The kid just kind of looks at me, we were over here in a timeout at the time, and he just looks at me like, ‘Coach tell me when you want me to take over,’ and that was after he’d scored 45 points," Triaga said, "as if he hadn’t taken over already.
"His composure on the basketball court is remarkable and he’s the best player I’ve ever coached at the high school level."