Tigers get revenge on Bobcats, await showdown with Forrest
Marshall County junior KJ Johnson showed why he is one of the three finalists for the Class 2A Mr. Basketball Award, scoring a game-high 36 points in all-around outstanding performance Tuesday night at Lewisburg in a District 12-AA first-round 61-60 win over longtime rival Giles County (6-16).
“Players make plays and make coaches look good,” Marshall County coach Lavon King said. “He stepped up and made some big three’s down the stretch when we needed them and like I said, he is a complete player.”
It was an all-out war that was not decided until the final buzzer sounded.
“It was a battle, back and forth, neither team wanted to lose and you could definitely tell that on the floor,” King said. “Everything was nip and tuck and there were no leads where anybody could relax.”
The Tigers’ victory sets up an epic semifinal at Pulaski Friday night when Marshall County (19-9) takes on the number one seed Forrest Rockets (12-15) for an intra-county rivalry clash.
The two teams split the regular season series.
Johnson and the Tigers came out of the gate a little slow Tuesday night, scoring eight points in the first quarter, but trailed by just two points to the Bobcats at the end of the period.
Johnson heated up at the beginning of the second quarter, burying two early 3-pointers to put the Tigers in front 16-13 and after a Giles County mini-run to re-take the lead, Johnson stole the ball and raced in for a slam dunk for an 18-17 MCHS lead.
The Bobcats punched back, ripping off a 9-0 scoring run, capped off by a Gary Smith bucket to give Giles County their biggest lead of the game at 26-18.
A late 3-pointer by Canelius Turner cut the Bobcats’ lead to three points, but a Tristan Ward trey with a few seconds remaining in the first half upped the Giles County lead to 33-27 at the intermission.
MCHS trailed 35-28 when Marcus Dodson went to work, scoring on a three-point play in the paint and then hitting two free throws one possession later to cut the Bobcats’ lead to 35-33.
A Giles County turnover on their next touch led to a Johnson lay-in over the top to put the Tigers in front again and the Bobcats called timeout with 6:11 remaining in the third quarter.
Sam Hatfield nailed a 3-pointer for the Bobcats out of the stoppage and the two teams battled back-and-forth for the remainder of the third period.
With just over a minute to go in the stanza, the Tigers had the ball in a tie game at 45 and decided to take the air out the ball, but the tactic backfired when they turned it over and Giles County scored with a few seconds left to take a 47-45 lead to the final eight minutes in the do-or-die contest.
Both teams went cold from the field at the outset of the fourth quarter until Johnson broke the frigidity with a long 3-pointer to put the Tigers in front 48-47 with 5:04 remaining in the game.
The two squads traded baskets before Johnson went downtown again, but a Smith bucket cut the MCHS lead to a single point before Turner hit his second 3-pointer of the game to make it 54-51.
Two Hatfield free throws and a Johnson drive to the hoop set up a big moment when Smith fouled Johnson for his fifth and final foul.
Johnson made the front end of a one-and-one, but missed the second and Dre Garrett scored for the Bobcats at the other end, making it a 57-55 contest.
Johnson took the ball and drove down the lane and dimed to Dodson for an easy layup before Hatfield scored again and the Bobcats called timeout with 17.5 seconds remaining in the game, trailing by two points.
After being fouled, Johnson hit one of two from the line and then came up with a huge defensive play, forcing a Giles County turnover at midcourt that led to one more made free throw by Johnson to put Marshall County in front 61-57.
The Tigers called timeout after Johnson’s made free throw, but Giles County answered with a Dakorbian Bellefant 3-pointer to make it a one-point game and the Bobcats took their last timeout with 3.8 seconds left in the contest.
On the ensuing inbounds play, Marshall County turned the ball over under the basket and the Bobcats had one last chance when they inbounded the ball, but the potential game winning shot was way off the mark and the Tigers survived 61-60.
“Everybody knew if they lost they were hanging up their bags until next year,” King said. “They came out a lot more focused and I thought we did a good job on both ends, both offensively and defensively, so we get to play Friday.”
Marshall County and Forrest play in the first semifinal game at 6 p.m. Friday night at Giles County and Nolensville (13-12) versus Murfreesboro Central Magnet (17-12) will follow in the second semifinal.
“It will be a fun game because we get the opportunity to play them,” King said. “I’m willing to play anybody as long as we continue playing.”
The District 12-AA title game is scheduled for Monday at 7:30 p.m.
Giles County 10 23 14 13-60
Marshall County 8 19 18 16-61
Giles County (60): KJ Zeigler 15, Dakorbian Bellefant 9, Dre Garrett 8, Gary Smith 7, Sam Hatfield 7, Tristan Ward 6, Walker Dunn 4, Riley Tucker 2, Morgan Witt 2.
Free Throws (12-for-17): Zeigler 9-for-13, Dunn 2-for-2, Ward 1-for-1, Smith 0-for-1.
3-Point goals (6): Bellefant 3, Ward, Smith, Hatfield.
Marshall County (61): KJ Johnson 36, Marcus Dodson 11, Canelius Turner 6, Jaleel Howard 5, Taylor Clark 2, Andrew Gold 1.
Free Throws (16-for-20): Johnson 9-for-12, Howard 3-for-4, Dodson 3-for-3, Gold 1-for-2.
3-Point goals (7): Johnson 5, Turner 2.
Halftime Score: Giles County 33, Marshall County 27.