GAINESVILLE -- Johnson coach Jeff Steele has always asked his players to take a leap of faith that his run-and-gun system will take them places.
After Saturday night's thrilling 76-71 win over East Hall in the Lanierland finals at the Lakeview Academy gym, senior Ty Cockfield did Steele one better with a back-flip at half-court as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
"I always do that after a big win. That really felt good," Cockfield said.
In Steele's 16 years at the helm of the Knights, Saturday's win may be the program's biggest.
"We hadn't won (Lanierland) since 1988 and I told the guys this will be something they will remember for the rest of their lives," Steele said. "This started last year and is the culmination of a lot of hard work. I'm so happy for the kids and for Johnson.
"Of course, had I know Ty was doing back-flips I might have tried to stop that. But we were all caught up in the moment."
It didn't come easy against the Vikings, who are looking to reassert themselves in the area. East Hall took a quick 2-0 lead on a basket by Kyvon Davenport but the Vikings would not lead again until the third quarter.
Johnson answered with a 14-2 run off six East Hall turnovers and built a 20-6 lead after the first quarter. The Knights increased the lead to 32-12 midway through the second quarter behind Cockfield, who had 13 of the Knights' first 30 points.
But East Hall exploded for a 17-0 run over a four minute stretch to cut the lead to 32-29. Davenport led the charge with five points, two steals, one assist, and two blocks.
Johnson would hang on for a 37-33 lead at halftime.
"I was very proud of our guys for not getting down or quitting when (Johnson) got out to the big lead," East Hall coach Joe Dix said. "We still have a lot of work to do, though. We got back in the game but then twice came out of timeouts and gave up easy baskets to let them keep the lead."
Steele knew East Hall would make a run.
"They always do," he said. "They played harder and smarter than we did in the second quarter. We were lucky to still have the lead."
The Vikings would take their second lead of the game opening the second half with a 5-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer from Tristin Cooper for a 38-37 advantage. The Knights would storm back with a 10-2 run to regain the lead and never trail again.
East Hall would get within 68-67 on another Cooper 3-pointer with 1:40 left in the game but the Knights would hit six consecutive free throws in the final minute to ice the game.
It was the defense of the Knights that helped them claim their first title since the first George Bush was president. In the final three minutes they forced five East Hall turnovers to take away potential scoring opportunities.
Cockfield would finish with 29 points to go with four rebounds and four steals. His effort earned him the Tournament MVP award.
James Hodges added 19 points, Justin Jones had 14 points, four rebounds, and three assists, and Carter Cagle added 10 points and eight rebounds for the Knights.
Davenport paced East Hall with 23 points and 15 rebounds. Caleb Holtzclaw had 13 points, Antonio Maddox had 11 points, and Joquin Hopkins added 10 points for the Vikings.
THIRD PLACE GAME:
Gainesville boys 79
Gainesville won the third place game using a pair of big runs.
The Red Elephants led just 27-22 in the second quarter but closed out the half with a 10-2 spurt. Gainesville would use a 15-4 run in the third quarter to push its lead to 59-39.
Chestatee trimmed the lead to 63-51 early in the fourth quarter on a 12-4 run but could get no closer.
Messiah Dorsey and Nam Van Dulm each had 15 points to pace Gainesville. Sam Carpenter had 13 points and Jay Gaudlock and Cedric Bryant 10 each for the Elephants.
Chestatee was led by Jordan Stubblefield's 17 points, including four 3-pointers. Hunter Creamer added 16 for the War Eagles.
54TH LANIERLAND ALL-TOURNAMENT HONORS
MVP -- Ty Cockfield, Johnson
Sportsmanship Award -- Joey Sheman, Chestatee
Hunter Atkinson, West Hall
Hunter Konuszowski, Flowery Branch
Paul Avery, Lakeview Academy
Jordan Pulliam, Chestatee
Nam Van Dulm, Gainesville
Carson Heinen, North Hall
Drew Dunham, Johnson
Kyvon Davenport, East Hall