OAKWOOD -- No one wanted to say it, but the first 16 minutes of Johnson's Class AAAA first round game against Stone Mountain Saturday night bared a striking and eerie resemblance to last year's shocking first-round loss to Shaw.
Thankfully for the Knights, that nightmare can be erased from their memories.
Johnson used a 16-7 run to start the third quarter and then hit 15 consecutive free throws to close out the game to rally for a an 83-71 win over the Pirates at the Johnson gym.
The win for the Knights (24-5) moved them into the second round for the first time since 2010. They will take on Sandy Creek Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Johnson.
The Knights would not be in the second round if not for the play of junior Rod English, who poured in a season-high 24 points to go with 11 rebounds, and he added a couple of blocks for good measure.
"He was a monster out there," Johnson coach Jeff Steele said. "His best game of the year without a doubt. And at the right time. I don't think we win without him tonight."
English said the memory of last year's disappointing loss was prevalent during the game and they did not want another year to think of what could have been.
"We definitely didn't want that feeling again," English said. "That was bad. The coach said someone needed to step up so I just tried to get things going. This is a much better feeling."
The Knights are on a roll with nine straight wins, although their streak of eight-straight 16-point-plus wins came to an end. They also are 11-0 at home this season.
They have not advanced past the second round during coach Steele's tenure and it is something he would definitely like to cross off his bucket list.
"It would nice to see what that feels like," he said. "It would be great to do it with this team. They work so hard and play so well together most of the time. But every team at this point is good so you have to show up with your A-game."
Early on it was anything but their A-game.
The Knights were hot and cold in the first half as the Pirates were able to capitalize on some early mistakes. Carter Cagle gave Johnson a quick lead but Stone Mountain caught fire hitting its first three 3-pointers to run out to an 11-4 lead fueled by three Johnson turnovers.
The Pirates would push their lead to 15-5 on consecutive baskets by Marquez Hinton following two more Johnson turnovers. But English had his first pick-me-up cutting the lead to 15-10 on a basket and 3-pointer. But the Pirates would answer with back-to-back 3-pointers for a 23-13 lead early in the second quarter off two more Johnson turnovers.
After a timeout, the Knights would get finally going. Johnson used an 8-2 run, capped by a three-point play from James Hodges, to get within 25-21 and then a Ty Cockfield basket would cap a 10-4 run to recapture the lead at 31-30. But the Pirates closed out the half with four straight points for a 34-31 halftime lead.
Stone Mountain exploited the Knights defense for 5-of-9 shooting from 3-point range in the first half. It would be a different story after the intermission.
Johnson used its big run to grab the lead for good. The Knights would lead 50-44 after the third quarter and then pull away in the fourth. The Pirates (17-12) never got closer than four points but stayed within striking distance. The Pirates were just 2-of-12 from 3-point range in the second half as Johnson did a better job of contesting shots.
English helped put the game out of reach with a key three-point play off a missed shot to give Johnson a 67-57 lead with 4:20 left. Stone Mountain would continue to foul the Knights trying to get back in the game but the Knights went 15-of-15 from the line down the stretch. They finished a staggering 34-of-39 from the line for the game.
"That's been the kind of thing to give us problems at times but they were fantastic tonight," Steele said. "We were engaged in the second half and you saw how we can play. I don't mind mistakes as long as we're being aggressive. When we do that, I think we're a real hard team to beat."
Cockfield finished with 21 points and had two assists and two steals for Johnson. Hodges added 20 points and 18 rebounds, including two huge stick-back baskets in the fourth quarter. Cagle finished with nine points for the Knights.
Stone Mountain was paced by Damani Walker's 25 points, including five 3-pointers. He hit four treys in the first half to help the Pirates grab the early lead. Chris Jones had 15 points, Hinton finished with 13, and Javier Canty had 11 for the Pirates.