Sunday May 1st, 2016 2:24AM

Boys basketball: Knights survive Lanier to stay perfect in 8-AAAA

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
OAKWOOD -- For parts of its key Region 8-AAAA matchup with Lanier Friday night, Johnson looked like a team ready to make a statement. At others, the Knights resembled a team that had forgotten how to play.

But when it mattered most, the Knights rose to the occasion, using a 14-0 run in the final 4:24 of the game to pull away for a tougher-than-the-score-indicated 61-44 win over the Longhorns at the Johnson gym.

Both teams came in unbeaten in region play, along with Chestatee and Eastside, who were playing each other in Conyers.

It was the sixth straight win for the Knights (16-4, 4-0 Region 8-AAAA) who are assured of no worse than a tie atop the standings before they take a week off. They will play host to Eastside next Friday.

"This was a big win for us," Johnson coach Jeff Steele said. "We want to finish up high in the standings and we needed this one. Eastside is the real deal.

"They resemble some of the old East Hall teams with their quickness and pressure defense. They will definitely press us so it was good to see that because we haven't been pressed in a while."

Johnson controlled the game for most of the first three quarters but Lanier (11-9, 2-1) changed to a full court press trailing 45-36 heading into the fourth quarter. The Longhorns forced four turnovers in the opening minutes and would pull to within 47-44 on a basket by Mateusz Debczynski with 4:24 left in the game.

The Knights would regroup, however, as Drew Dunham sparked a 6-0 run in a 52 second span. He would score off an offensive rebound, then swiped a Lanier pass for a fastbreak basket, and then fed Montrell McKenzie on a nice pass that would lead to two free throws and a 53-44 lead.

"I was not happy with how we let them back in the game," Steele said. "We panicked a little when they pressed us and that bothered me. But I did like how we calmed down and got back under control.

"We needed a spark and Drew gave it to us. But we'll have to correct some of these things by next week."

Normally a sore spot for Johnson, the Knights helped put the game away going 8-for-8 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter and were 15-of-21 for the game, which elicited a fist-pump from Steele.

"It's about time," he said.

The win was also the 200th victory for Steele in his 14 seasons at Johnson. He downplayed it a bit but smiled when assistant coach Michael Parker pointed it out.

"It's nice," he said. "I've had some good players over the years. They deserve the credit."

Johnson grabbed an early 6-1 lead behind McKenzie, who had four points and three quick rebounds. But the Longhorns forced two Johnson turnovers in a 7-0 run to grab an 8-6 lead.

Ty Cockfield then got the Knights going. He scored on two consecutive possessions, had two steals, and then dished out two assists in a 14-0 Johnson run that extended into the second quarter for a 20-8 lead. Lanier would not get closer than 10 points the rest of the first half.

Johnson would push its lead to 31-15 late in the second quarter on a Dunham steal and layup and took a 35-21 lead into halftime.

McKenzie had a solid first half with 12 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks before picking up his third foul late in the second quarter. Cockfield had 10 points, five rebounds, two assists, and two steals in the first half for the Knights.

Johnson maintained a 10- to 12-point lead most of the third quarter until the Longhorns' Paul Webb completed a three-point play with 16 seconds left to cut it to 45-36, the closest they had been since the opening minutes of the game.

McKenzie would finish with 20 points and 15 rebounds to lead Johnson. Ty Cockfield would add 18 points and 10 rebounds and Dunham had 15 points, three assists, and three steals for the Knights.

Webb paced the Longhorns with 13 points and 14 rebounds. Andre Irvin added 10 points -- all in the second half -- for Lanier.
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