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Stephens spurs Spartans to semifinal win
The Johnson High bench is dejected as the final seconds pass during their loss to West Hall during the Region 7-AAA tournament Monday night at the Flowery Branch High gymnasium.
FLOWERY BRANCH — According to West Hall coach Warren Sellers, it wasn’t so much playing a close game in the first round against Gainesville that helped his team Monday night.

“Our side of the region is so deep and so tough that you have to learn to execute,” Sellers said. “You learn to play the game.”

With that tough region schedule on their side, the Spartans overcame a 10-point deficit and a hot-shooting Johnson team to pull out a 69-65 win in the Region 7-AAA tournament semifinals at Flowery Branch High.

The win puts the Spartans (18-10) in the region finals where they will play North Hall, which beat East Hall 66-57 in the nightcap.

“The Gainesville game unprepared us a little bit,” Sellers said. “We talked at practice about it being a good memory, but nothing that will help us in a game.

“We came out a little flat because of the emotional game against Gainesville.”

And Johnson (15-11) did not, as the Knights started the game on a 12-3 run in which they were 4-for-4 from the 3-point line.

They extended the lead to 14-5 on Matt Hollis’ eighth point of the first quarter and started a perfect 6-for-6 from the field, taking a 16-5 lead on a turnaround bank shot by E.J. Wright.

Johnson shot a scorching 75 percent from the field in the first quarter en route to a 10-point lead.

Hollis, who finished with 13 points in the game, and Grant Cagle were the catalysts as the two combined for 14 of the Knights’ 23 points.

Cagle finished with a team-high 18 points on six 3-pointers.

Offensively, West Hall seemed to not show up until the second quarter as the Spartans were able to pull within two points thanks to the shooting of Manny Mata and the all-around play of Shunquez Stephens.

Mata scored all six of his points in the second quarter, while Stephens scored six points and grabbed seven rebounds, four offensive.

The Spartans didn’t impose their will offensively, however, until the fourth quarter.

Four straight points by Williams Stroup to start the final period tied the game.

A Stephens pass to Jarquise Young for a 3-pointer gave West Hall its first lead of the game at 56-53.

Young finished with 18 points for the Spartans.

Johnson came right back to take a four-point lead on a Ty Redmon 3-pointer and a Chris Henry layup after a Tre Dudley steal.

Stephens took over from there, however, hitting for a three-point play on one end and then stealing the ball on the other and passing it ahead to teammate Young for a jumper that gave West Hall a lead it would not relinquish.

Stephens finished as the game’s leading scorer with 24 points and 16 rebounds.

“He’s clutch,” Sellers said. “He thinks every rebound has his name on it. He isn’t that great of a jumper, but gets great position and has great hands.

“We lean on him big time, I call him the 20-10 man, and he stepped up big time for us tonight.”

Johnson plays East Hall at 5:30 tonight in the tournament’s third-place game.
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