MACON – For a quarter and a half, two neighborhood rivals battled to a near draw in a hard-fought start.
Then, thanks to a little help from Tim Quarterman, Johnson-Savannah found its offense.
The LSU commit scored 9 of his game-high 21 points in a 3:30 stretch to key a run that gave the No. 3 Atom Smashers the lead and sparked them to a 61-51 win over No. 2 Savannah for the Class AAA title.
It’s the first state title since 1992 for Johnson (25-6), who never surrendered the lead after gaining it around the halfway point of the second quarter, early in that effectively deciding run. The Johnson lead grew to as many as 16 during the second half.
It looked like neither team would ever take control early, as the first quarter grinded on with only 14 total points scored between the two rivals.
The Atom Smashers led 8-6, but it felt like the teams were just standing at midcourt slugging each other.
It stayed tight past the 5-minute mark of the second quarter, when Johnson finally broke free.
Baskets by Devon Holmes and Adrian Bonds started the run, and then Quarterman scored the Atom Smashers’ next 9 points, turning a 2-point lead into 8 points. The 13-4 run gave Johnson the advantage, and the Blue Jackets (28-4) never got closer than 5 the rest of the way.
Every time Savannah would make a couple of baskets and look like it could make a run to get back into the game, Johnson had an answer.
One such moment came with 2:19 left in the third, when back-to-back dunks by Tyreese Rivers and Chris Cokley made it 40-30. Johnson took a timeout, Quarterman knifed to the basket for a layup, and the Savannah momentum was quelled.
A big part of the reason Johnson was able to keep Savannah at arm’s length throughout the second half was defense.
The Blue Jackets shot only 34 percent overall and 22 percent on 3-pointers. The Atom Smashers turned the ball over 18 times, but their ability to make shooting difficult for Savannah made up for any ball-control issues.
On offense, Johnson’s advantage inside also paid dividends, outscoring Savannah 34-20 in the paint, along with posting a 32-28 rebounding advantage.
Jermaine Williams led Savannah with 18 points and 6 rebounds; teammate Jamal Norman had 16 points and 7 rebounds. The Atom Smashers only attempted three 3-pointers and didn’t make any.