OAKWOOD -- The Johnson boys are back in the state tournament for the first time in three years. But it didn't come easy Tuesday night against Lumpkin County in the quarterfinals of the Region 8-AAAA tournament.
The Knights led by just one point late in the first quarter against the Indians, who came into the game with just four wins, before exploding on a 23-5 run and eventually taking a 64-30 victory at the Johnson gym.
The win moved the Knights (22-4) into the Class AAAA state tournament next week, their first trip to state since the 2010 season. Johnson will take on Stephens County in the region semifinals at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Johnson.
Johnson coach Jeff Steele said he was worried about playing Lumpkin County, despite its record and the fact they had beaten the Indians by 28 points twice during the regular season.
"They are better than their record and really they've been playing pretty good lately," he said before the two teams hit the floor for the late game. "These are the kinds of games that scare me."
He proved to be prophetic as the Indians, though never leading, went right at the Knights in the opening minutes. Jacob Haskell drained a long 3-pointer to cap a 7-3 run to pull Lumpkin County within 10-9 and Johnson led just 13-9 at the end of the first quarter.
"We didn't rebound the ball well in the first quarter and Lumpkin played well," Steele said. "But I really liked how we responded in the second quarter."
That's when Johnson's Ty Cockfield and Rod English decided to take measures into their own hands. The two guards scored the Knights' next 17 points, including eight straight by Cockfield, to pull away for a 33-14 lead. The Knights also held the Indians to just one field goal over an eight minute stretch during that span while building a 33-16 halftime advantage.
Lumpkin County would cut the lead to 33-18 to open the third quarter but Johnson's Montrell McKenzie got hot scoring nine straight points to give the Knights a 46-18 lead. Johnson would eventually build a 52-22 lead heading into the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
Cockfield would finish with 17 points, four rebounds, and four assists to lead Johnson. English added 15 points but was forced to leave the game early in the fourth quarter after getting elbowed in the face. Steele said English may have suffered a broken nose and his status is uncertain for Thursday's semifinal game.
Steele said he is excited about the possibilities for this year's group moving forward in the playoffs. The victory set a new school record for wins in a season for the Knights.
"These guys are hungry and they play well together," he said. "We've been on a good roll but I still think we can get better."
McKenzie had 14 points and 17 rebounds and Drew Dunham had eight points and three assists for Johnson.
Lumpkin County, which finished the season at 4-23, was led by Haskell with 10 points. No other Indians scored more than four points.