Sunday October 22nd, 2017 8:08AM

8-AAAA championships: Johnson slams Eastside to win back-to-back region crowns (VIDEO)

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor

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SUGAR HILL -- Jeff Steele sensed something building from the moment he set foot on campus Tuesday.

"There was something different in the air today for my kids... They were just focused all day, and you could tell, they were ready for this one," said the Knights basketball coach.

Were they ever.

Johnson exploded for 28 first quarter points and never looked back, as the Knights stormed to their second straight Region 8-AAAA crown, cruising past Eastside for a 88-67 victory at Lanier High in Sugar Hill.

"My guys have a lot of pride too, and the fact they beat us earlier this season had us in the right place," Steele said.

The victory exorcised Johnson's only region defeat of the season and notched the Knights (23-5) first ever back-to-back region crowns.

"After (Eastside) beat us in the regular season we had them on our minds, and once we got to them we had no choice but to win," junior guard Ty Cockfield said. "We all wanted this one, and we played like it."

Indeed, bar a couple of moments of sloppiness in the second quarter -- when Eastside pulled as close as 36-28 -- Johnson held sway, almost doubling up what the Eagles have allowed on average this season.

"We've been through the trenches playing in tough games and tournaments like Lanierland, and, in the end, I think we were just more prepared for this game than they were," Steele said. "Eastside is a good team. They came into this game with an 18-game win streak, but we played as well as we could have against them.

"Hopefully we can ride this to a deep state playoff run."

Tuesday's victory sent the Knights back into the state tournament as a No. 1 seed -- where they feel they have plenty of unfinished business after last year's shocking first round upset.

"We've got tons of momentum right now, especially knowing we're going back home," Cockfield said. "It's especially awesome for the seniors. They really have led us this season, and they deserve this."

Johnson showed a ravenous appetite for success from the outset on Tuesday, scoring the first nine points of the game and then closing the first quarter on a 15-4 run to take control. Justin Jones played a key role in the early going, draining two 3-pointers to cap an eight-point quarter.

Jones finished with 17 points, while James Hodges led Johnson with a game-high 23 points, and 10 rebounds. Cockfield also scored 21, and Rod English tallied 11 points seven blocks.

Each played key roles in the second quarter, as they combined to turn away Eastside's biggest threat. Marquise Sims and Anthony Henderson each came up with transition lay-ups to spark a 12-4 Eastside run that saw the Eagles close to within 36-28 with 2:50 left in the half. But Johnson fired right back, closing the half on a 9-5 push to re-establish a 47-33 advantage at the interval.

The Knights kept their momentum in the third quarter, Hodges sinking lay-ups and two technical foul free throws to help Johnson to a 60-39 advantage midway through the period that was never threatened the rest of the way.

Henderson led Eastside with 13 points, while Treyvon Francis added 12 and Justin Adams scored 10.

"It's so nice to repeat as region champs," Steele said. "This team has done so much, and hopefully they have a lot more to do."

Johnson is also in the midst of its first ever back-to-back campaigns of 20-plus wins.

The Knights will put their momentum on the line on Saturday when they play host to the No. 4 seed from Region 6-AAAA -- still to be determined -- in the opening round of the state tournament.
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