Johnson leads Tigers to District 12-AA title

Wednesday, February 21, 2018
The 2017-2018 District 12-AA champion Marshall County Tigers pose with the title plaque after beating Murfreesboro Central Magnet 85-71 Monday night at Pulaski.
Tribune photos by Anthony S. Puca

If you’re not a believer now, you never will be.

Marshall County junior KJ Johnson has to be the favorite for the Class 2A Mr. Basketball Award after leading the Tigers to a sweep of the District 12-AA Tournament.

Johnson capped off an unbelievable district tournament performance with 45 points in the Tigers’ huge 87-71 come from behind win over Murfreesboro Central Magnet (MCM) in Monday night’s title game at Pulaski.

Class 2A Mr. Basketball finalist KJ Johnson (3) buries one of his five 3-pointers for the Tigers, who beat Murfreesboro Central Magnet Monday for the District 12-AA title.

“Like I said, it was one of those things we had on our check list at the beginning of the year and we took care of business tonight,” Marshall County coach Lavon King said. “We wanted to run the floor and get some easy baskets and defensively make it tough on them.”

“I told them defense would be the key to this game and it was.”

Johnson, who was named the District 12-AA regular season and tournament MVP, knocked down five 3-pointers in the contest and went 16-for-21 from the free throw line with a big second half, including a monster 20-point third quarter when the Tigers took control of the game after trailing at halftime.

Lamarcus Dodson continued his fine play in the low post, scoring 20 points with 12 coming in the fourth period and Keshun Gentry came up huge with 13 points, including the go-ahead bucket with 2:28 remaining in the third quarter.

Dodson was named to the All-Tournament and All-Season Team and Gentry made the All-Tournament squad.

With the win, the Tigers (21-9) earned a number one seed and host Lewis County (13-17) for a Region 6-AA opener on Saturday at Dottie Kelso Memorial Gymnasium in Lewisburg with tipoff scheduled for 7 p.m.

“It’ll be great to play in front of the home crowd and I’m just pleased for the kids,” King said. “The fan support has been great and I’ve been very pleased that they all come out and it made it even better because we won.”

MCM (18-13) hosts Camden (12-17) and on the other side of the bracket, District 11-AA Tournament champion Fairview (23-6) entertains Forrest (12-17), and Waverly (13-14) plays host to Nolensville (14-13).

After Saturday’s first round the remainder of the tournament will be played at Nolensville beginning on Tuesday.

Central Magnet came out on fire and quickly put Lewisburg in a hole before they fought back for 12-12 tie on an Ak’y Howard 3-pointer late in the first quarter, only to see MCM come back to lead 17-14, entering period number two.

With just over three minutes to play in the second quarter Nick Hamlett hit both ends of a one-and-one opportunity from the free throw line to give MCM its biggest lead of the game at 10 points.

Marshall County staved off a bigger lead and trailed by just six points, 38-32 at the intermission.

MCM outscored Marshall County 10-6 to start the second half and led by 10 points again on a Stephen Laird basket before the worm turned.

A Johnson 3-pointer was followed by two made free throws by Jaleel Howard after he was fouled hauling down an offensive rebound.

Laird scored for Central Magnet, but once again Johnson took over with another trey, followed by a circus drive to the hoop that resulted in a three-point play the old fashioned way and the Tigers were back in business, trailing by one point at 50-49.

Keshun Gentry takes the rock strong to the hole for two of his 13 points in the game.

A Central Magnet brick led to Gentry driving to the hoop for a scoop, score, and foul with 2:28 left in the third quarter to give Lewisburg a lead it would never surrender again in the contest.

MCM coughed up the rock and Johnson nailed a 3-pointer and the sloppy play continued for Central Magnet, who turned the ball over again and that led to two made free throws by Johnson and a six-point lead.

Marshall County took the same six-point lead to the final eight minutes and the Tigers began to pull away via a back-breaking 13-2 run to open the period that resulted in a 71-54 lead on a Dodson basket off a pretty feed from Johnson with 5:26 remaining in the game.

The Marshall County fans celebrate as time runs out in the District 12-AA title game Monday night at Giles County.

Central Magnet could not respond and the Tigers put the game away from the free throw line, making 6-of-8 down the stretch to seal back-to-back district titles for the Tigers.

12-AA All-Academic Team

Marshall County: Leah Hollingsworth, Alli Hobbs, Taylor Walls (cheerleader), and Hannah Sheppard (cheerleader).

Forrest: Emma Stacey, Madison Curtis, Grace Thrasher, Katey Harmon, Jacob Rich, Dylan Watt, and Tucker McNair.

12-AA All-Season Team

Marshall County: Leah Hollingsworth, Kelsey Keiler, KJ Johnson, and Lamarcus Dodson.

Forrest: Carissa Curtis, Grace Thrasher, Ryley McClaran, and Jacob Rich.

12-AA All-Tournament Team

Marshall County: Hannah Davis, KJ Johnson, LaMarcus Dodson, and Keshun Gentry.

Forrest: Jaide Langley and Jacob Rich.

District 12-AA All-Season Girls MVP: Grace Baird (Nolensville)

District 12-AA Tournament Girls MVP:-Kailyn Farrell (Community).

District 12-AA All-Season Boys MVP: KJ Johnson (MCHS)

District 12-AA Tournament Boys MVP:-KJ Johnson (MCHS).

MCM 17 21 14 19-71

MCHS 14 18 26 27-85

MCM (71): Stephen Laird 16, Will Carver 13, Nick Hamlett 13, Jack Smith 9, Patrick Norman 8, Michael Brown 6, Jayden Hernandez 3, Caleb Conrad 3.

Free Throws (9-for-14): Hamlett 4-for-4, Carver 2-for-3, Smith 2-for-3, Hernandez 1-for-2, Norman 0-for-1, Laird 0-for-1.

3-Point goals (6): Brown 2, Carver, Conrad, Smith, Hamlett.

MCHS (71): KJ Johnson 45, Lamarcus Dodson 20, Keshun Gentry 13, Jaleel Howard 4, Ak’y Howard 3.

Free Throws (28-for-35): Johnson16-for-21, Gentry 6-for-7, Dodson 4-for-5, Jaleel Howard 2-for-2.

3-Point goals (7): Johnson 5, Gentry, Ak’y Howard.

Halftime Score: MCM 38, MCHS 32.