Johnson goes wild at Pulaski, Tigers advance to 12-AA title game

Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Class 2A Mr. Basketball finalist KJ Johnson, who scored 53 points, soars in for a dunk after stealing the ball at the beginning of the third quarter in the Tigers’ 77-64 win over Forrest in the District 12-AA semifinals Friday night at Giles County.
Tribune photos by Anthony S. Puca

Marshall County junior southpaw gunslinger KJ Johnson went wild at Pulaski Friday night, pouring in 53 points for the Tigers in a 77-64 win over intra-county rival Forrest to secure a spot in the District 12-AA title game versus Murfreesboro Central Magnet.

“It’s amazing,” Johnson said. “We came out and did exactly what we were supposed to do, we came out strong, didn’t come out flat and did what were supposed to do.”

“There was a lot of people who didn’t think we could do this because of the Caleb (Fields) incident when we lost him, but we did and we are proving people wrong.”

It seemed like Johnson morphed into at least three players as he was all over the court inside a standing room only Harden-Mayfield Gymnasium where he put on a show that was worth at least double the ticket price.

“I love the intensity, the adrenaline, I live for it,” Johnson said about playing in front of the big crowd.

No matter what Forrest tried to do to stop Johnson it never worked as the Class 2A Mr. Basketball finalist came up with a three-pronged offensive attack, taking the ball to the dish numerous times, stepping out to nail five 3-pointers, and draining all 10 foul shots he attempted in the contest.

“KJ did a great job, he stepped it up when he needed to,” Marshall County coach Lavon King said. “Those guys don’t come around too often, so we are going to take advantage of it this year and next year and hopefully our team will take us to where we want to go and that is a state championship.”

Marcus Dodson had another big game in the low post for Marshall County as he owned the boards, scoring all 13 of his points off of strong play in the blocks.

Marcus Dodson (24) owned the low post Friday night at Pulaski as the Tigers beat Forrest in the District 12-AA semifinals.

“That first and second quarter I wasn’t playing my game,” Dodson said. “I came out in the second half and I told coach ‘my fault, I’m gonna get everything together.’ That’s when I started to do what I do best and that’s crashing the boards and dishing out to KJ or Keshun (Gentry) and they get it out.”

“I really don’t care who we play next, I’m just gonna come out and do my thing so we can get this back-to-back title.”

Keshun Gentry and Jaleel Howard had four points apiece and Canelius Turner had one 3-pointer.

Forrest’s Ty Hengesbach (5) steals the ball and races in for a first half layup.

The Rockets actually hung in for much of the game, holding leads late in the first quarter and again near the end of the second quarter at 24-22 before Johnson scored the final three baskets in the first half to put the Tigers in front for good.

Just seconds into the second half, Johnson stole the ball and soared in for a dunk to electrify the crowd.

“They were very focused, especially in the second half when we stepped it up defensively,” King said.

Johnson fed off the energy and singlehandedly outscored the Rockets 18-15 in the third quarter.

The Tigers scored 27 points as team in the third period and led 57-39, entering the final eight minutes of play in Giles County.

The Rockets did not quit and actually came alive in the fourth period, outscoring the Tigers 25-20, but it was way too little, way too late as Marshall County cruised to the 13-point win.

Sam Ford (24) drains one of his two 3-pointers in the contest.

“It’s very hard to beat 53 points by Johnson, but we didn’t do a good job of reacting to a lot of stuff,” Forrest coach Randy Toombs said. “We didn’t react to the style of play and we didn’t react to turning the ball over. It was more of a snowball effect.”

“If there was anything I was more disappointed in it was the defense we played, it wasn’t Forrest defense.”

Forrest was led in the scoring column by Jacob Rich’s 14 points, while Ryley McClaran had 13, and Ty Hengesbach and Sam Ford netted 12 points apiece.

Mitchell Everett tallied seven, Spencer McCown four, and Cameron Curtis had two markers for the Rockets.

The win also guaranteed a first-round satellite home game in the Region 6-AA Tournament on Saturday night at Lewisburg before the reminder of the tournament moves to Nolensville on Tuesday.

“That was definitely one of the things we had on our dry erase board at the beginning of the year is playing for a district championship and we got the opportunity to do that and we want to take full advantage of it,” King said.

Forrest played Nolensville Monday night in the D12-AA consolation game and both those teams have road trips Saturday night.

Marshall County 15 15 27 20-77

Forrest 12 12 15 25-64

Marshall County (77): KJ Johnson 53, Marcus Dodson 13, Keshun Gentry 4, Jaleel Howard 4, Canelius Turner 3.

Free Throws (20-for-28): Johnson 10-for-10, Dodson 7-for-12, Howard 3-for-4, Gentry 0-for-2.

3-Point goals (6): Johnson 5, Turner.

Forrest (64): Jacob Rich 14, Ryley McClaran 13, Sam Ford 12, Ty Hengesbach 12, Mitchell Everett 7, Spencer McCown 4, Cameron Curtis 2.

Free Throws (4-for-5): Hengesbach 2-for-2, McClaran 1-for-2, Everett 1-for-2.

3-Point goals (7): Hengesbach 2, McClaran 2, Ford 2, Rich.

Halftime Score: Marshall County 30, Forrest 24.