OLIVE HILL Johnson Central looked poised to secure a road win Wednesday night at West Carter.
The Golden Eagles led by 21 with 14 seconds to play in the third quarter when the Comets decided they had seen enough.
Fortunately for the Golden Eagles, the 20-point-plus lead proved to be just enough to hold on for a 74-70 win at the Harold L. Holbrook Athletic Complex West.
“We are a veteran team, so it surprised me that we didn’t handle the situation better than we did,” Johnson Central coach Tommy McKenzie said. “I could sit here and say, hey, we’ve been off 11 days, but (West Carter has) been off since Jan. 11. They played like a typical coach (Jeremy) Webb team. They played really hard and really scrappy. They are very disciplined and are physical and we just didn’t match that in the fourth quarter when they got after us.”
Trailing 57-36, West Carter rolled off a 30-12 run to close to within three at 69-66 with 48 seconds to go after forcing six of the 20 Golden Eagles total turnovers in the surge. Ryan Sartin-Slone hit his second free throw attempt to push the lead to four, but the Comets’ Tyson Webb hit a tough shot in traffic off an inbound play to cut the lead to only two with 15 seconds to go.
“We got a little bit unorganized and had some uncharacteristic turnovers and then we had a turnover with about four seconds to go that could have been the difference in the ball game, to be honest with you,” McKenzie said. “At the end of the day, we made just enough plays to win the game and anytime you can come down here in this region and play good teams and win on the road, we’ll take it any way we can get it."
West Carter coach Jeremy Webb expected some rust after being sidelined for nearly a month.
“We’ve not played a daggone basketball game and we’ve only had two practices prior to this in the past three weeks,” Webb said. “I think it’s been 22 days … a long time. I kind of felt like it would be a little bit ugly and we would probably play a little soft that first half, and that’s what we did. We got ourselves in a deficit. We were down 21 points and looked at the scoreboard and thought, this one is getting away from us a little bit.”
After West Carter trimmed Johnson Central’s lead to four with four minutes to play on a Gage Leadingham steal and Trevor Callahan bucket, the Golden Eagles elected to go into their spread offense in hopes of burning clock, only to see the decision nearly cost them the contest.
“We didn’t want to take the air out of the ball, so that’s exactly the conversation I just had with the team in here,” McKenzie said. “When we go to our spread offense, we want to go to the spread in an attacking mode. Our guys stopped attacking. They stopped going to the middle of the floor with the dribble and they stopped moving. We went to a little five-out set but it seemed like once they turned the pressure up a little bit, it put us back on our heels and we just stopped looking to attack."
Webb said he was pleased with the resolve his Comets showed after a lackluster first half.
“Our guys had fight and that’s what I’m proud of more than anything,” Webb said. “We had enough fight in us to come back and finish that third quarter really strong and then, boom, come right back out in the fourth quarter and get two quick buckets. They knew at that time they were in a game. It’s progression and to think where we could possibly be, that’s exciting for us. Heck, it’s exciting just to come out here and play a daggone basketball game.”
West Carter had one final chance of completing the comeback after both Isaiah May free throws missed the mark, but a 3-pointer for the Comets win didn’t fall.
“We held them to 22 in the first half and allowed them to score 70,” McKenzie said. “We are very fortunate to be coming out of here with a win.”
May led the Golden Eagles with 15 points. Cory VanHoose added 12 points and 11 rebounds. John King netted nine points and grabbed 11 rebounds. As a team, Johnson Central dominated West Carter on the glass by a margin of 35-20.
“Number one on our scouting report every game is win the rebounding battle,” McKenzie said. “That’s big for us because we aren’t very big. But rebounding is about effort, energy, hustle and who has the most heart. In big moments, that was us tonight.”
Webb added the Golden Eagles’ performance on the glass was atypical for the makeup of their squad.
“They spaced the floor really well and they started to run some time and they had five guys who could all shoot and handle the basketball,” Webb said. “It’s a difficult matchup for a lot of teams and then they rebound it so well, which is kind of a thing you typically give up when you have a lot of guys who can score from the perimeter. To their credit, they tried to do that, but we turned up the defensive pressure and got a couple more turnovers. We got some hands on basketballs and got some transition opportunities and I was really proud of how we played that second half.”
Tyson Webb led the Comets with 22 points. Landon Nichols added 13.
Prior to the game, West Carter honored the late Ben Jordan with a moment of silence while displaying his jersey on an empty seat on the Comets’ bench. It was the first time the Comets had taken the court since Jordan died on Jan. 11.
J. CENTRAL FG FT REB TP
McKenzie 1-1 1-2 1 4
May 5-12 2-4 4 15
Rice 2-5 6-9 1 11
VanHoose 4-15 4-4 11 12
King 4-7 1-4 11 9
Sartin-Slone 3-3 3-5 3 10
Lemaster 2-6 0-0 2 5
Slone 2-2 0-0 0 6
Spriggs 0-0 0-0 2 0
Hackney 1-1 0-0 0 2
Lawson 0-0 0-0 0 0
TOTAL 24-52 17-28 35 74
FG Pct.: 46.2. FT Pct.: 60.7. 3-pointers: 9-21 (May 3-6, Rice 1-2, Vanhoose 0-4, McKenzie 1-1, Lemaster 1-5, Sartin-Slone 1-1, Slone 2-2). PF: 23. Fouled out: King, Spriggs. Turnovers: 20. Technical Foul: McKenzie.
W. CARTER FG FT REB TP
Webb 6-13 8-10 1 22
Bond 4-9 2-3 3 10
Nichols 5-7 3-4 2 13
Callahan 4-9 2-4 3 10
Berry 2-3 0-0 3 4
Jones 1-2 0-0 1 2
Sammons 2-7 0-3 4 5
Leadingham 1-4 2-2 3 4
TOTAL 25-54 17-26 20 70
FG Pct.: 46.3. FT Pct.: 65.4. 3-pointers: 3-12 (Webb 2-5, Callahan 0-2, Sammons 1-4, Nichols 0-1). PF: 24. Fouled out: Jones. Turnovers: 14.
J. CENTRAL 21 16 21 16 — 74
W. CARTER 11 11 20 28 — 70
Officials: Gavin Tussey, Stephen Miller, Aaron Arnold.