Thursday October 8th, 2015 9:42PM

Boys basketball: Knights rout Eastside, take top seed in 8-AAAA

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
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OAKWOOD -- The Johnson boys decided to leave nothing to chance Thursday night against Eastside in a showdown for first place in both teams' Region 8-AAAA finale.

After falling behind 7-2 in the opening minutes, the Knights exploded for a 24-2 run to end the first quarter en route to a 90-70 win at the Johnson gym and earned the No. 1 seed in next week's region tournament, which will be held at Johnson.

An Eastside win combined with a Lanier victory over Madison County would have created a three-way tie atop the region with a series of coin flips ready to decide the top three seeds.

They can use the change for coffee instead.

"We knew what we wanted and came in focused," Johnson coach Jeff Steele said. "We did not want things to be decided by chance. We wanted the No. 1 seed and I thought we did a great job of coming out strong and taking control."

Montrell McKenzie was the catalyst for the Knights' game-changing run and played like it was his final regular season home game. The senior center had 12 points, six rebounds, and two assists in the decisive run and would finish the first half with 20 points and 15 rebounds, including four stick-back baskets and a monster dunk.

He was no match for the Eagles inside.

"Not many people can guard him when he comes to play," Steele said. "It was senior night and I think he had a little extra incentive."

McKenzie finished with a game-high 32 points, 23 rebounds, three blocks, and two assists for good measure.

Once the smoke cleared on the Knights first quarter run they led 26-9 and would extend it to 34-11 early in the second quarter. The Eagles tried to get back in the game with a 9-2 run to cut the lead to 36-20 but McKenzie and James Hodges would combine for the final 15 points and spark a 15-6 burst to end the half for a 51-27 lead.

Johnson (21-4, 8-0 Region 8-AAAA) opened the third quarter with an 8-0 run to blow the game open and would lead by as many as 32 points in the second half. The Knights led 75-44 after the third quarter prompting just a six-minute fourth quarter.

It was a physical game throughout. The two teams combined were called for 50 fouls and four players fouled out, including Ty Cockfield and Rod English for Johnson.

Eastside took advantage of the foul situation and some late 3-pointers to cut the lead to 86-68 with less than a minute to go in the game but could get no closer.

The Eagles would hit 19-of-27 free throws, most coming in the fourth quarter, while Johnson was 26-of-34 on free throws for the game.

"Things got a little sloppy at the end," Steele said. "We'll need to do a better job of keeping our composure at the end of games."

Hodges would finish with 18 points for Johnson. Cockfield had 14 points, five assists, and three rebounds and Drew Dunham had 10 points and four assists for the Knights.

Quindarius Russell led Eastside (14-8, 6-2) with 29 points. Anthony Henderson added 14 for the Eagles.

Johnson, which is riding an 11-game winning streak, will be off until taking on the Lumpkin County-Walnut Grove play-in winner on Tuesday in the first round of the region tournament.

"All we have to do is win one to get into the state tournament but of course we have higher goals than that," Steele said. "I hope being the top seed will be an easier road but you never know."
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