E.A. Sports Today

Finding the spark

After a cold first half, Can Johnson, Jacksonville find range in second half, get past Piedmont to reach boys county final

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – Tres Buzan had never seen the basket closed to 3-pointers the way it was for his Jacksonville basketball team in the first half Thursday night. He was confident it wouldn’t stay that way, but he knew something had to change.

Cam Johnson knew it, too. All three shots he took in the first half were from 3-point range and all three missed the mark. He missed his fourth 3 at the start of third quarter. But when he finally hit one, it touched off the Golden Eagles’ version of “Showtime” and propelled them to an 81-59 victory over Piedmont.

The win sends Jacksonville to meet Oxford in a rematch of last year’s tournament finals for a title that eluded them a year ago. The Golden Eagles last won the county boys tournament in 1995

“When I missed like two shots I started to fall back and try to take it to the rim because it wasn’t falling,” he said. “In the second half I really hit it up.”

Piedmont gave the Golden Eagles all they could handle in the first half and with the Bulldogs hitting 3s left and right led by as many as seven before going into the break with a 34-32 lead. The Bulldogs hit four 3-pointers and a traditional three-point play and had only two turnovers.

“I felt like we took a really good punch from them early,” Buzan said. “(Alex) Odam was hitting some tough shots and they were scoring and we found a way to only be down by two at halftime. In the second half those shots started falling and they made a difference. Once the iron got hot, we took off from there.”

Johnson needed something to change his luck and asked for a piece of gum, which team statistician Hilarie Howard promptly supplied. Johnson didn’t know what kind of gum it was, he just knew it worked.

Loosening his jaw also loosened his shot. He missed his first shot in the second half — another 3 — but when he finally connected on one from the right corner with 4:10 left in the third quarter it gave the Golden Eagles a 46-43 lead and touched off a 24-5 run over the next seven minutes that gave them control of the game.

Johnson had all 14 of his points in that seven-minute run, including three 3s and three free throws from a foul from behind the arc. His second 3 came after rebounding a missed free throw and his final 3 came just before the third-quarter horn sounded. His three free throws opened the fourth quarter.

“I just changed my shot,” he explained. “I was shooting left, so in the second half I just shot right and it fell. I knew they were going to fall if I kept shooting. I wouldn’t say I down, but I was kind of like, dang, some shots gotta fall. In the second half, I kept on pulling. I just didn’t give up and kept going.”

After their 1-for-12 start from 3-point range, the Golden Eagles finished 8-of-24 from behind the arc. After not having any in the first half, Cam Johnson wound up with the most (three). He was 6-of-10 from 3-point range in Jacksonville’s quarterfinals win over Saks in his previous game.

“You’d better not let Cam see one go in the net,” Buzan said. “If he misses six in a row, it’s really irrelevant to him; he doesn’t care. He’s a true shooter. He’s going to keep shooting. And once he sees one go in, look out.”

The Golden Eagles placed four scorers in double figures. They were led by John Broom’s 26, Caden Johnson had 22, Cam Johnson and Devin Barksdale had 14 apiece.

Odam led Piedmont with 23 points. Ish Bethel had 14.

PIEDMONT – Alex Odam 9-22 5-8 23, Ish Bethel 5-9 1-2 14, Rollie Pinto 4-8 0-0 9, Coleman Wilson 2-5 0-0 6, Rhett Alford 2-3 1-2 5, Chance Murphy 1-2 0-0 2, Dontavious Jordan 0-0 0-0 0, Trevor Pike 0-0 0-0 0, Colton Proctor 0-0 0-0 0, Luke Rhinehart 0-1 0-0 0, Jake Rhinehart 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-50 7-12 59.

JACKSONVILLE – John Broom 9-14 7-10 26, Caden Johnson 9-13 3-5 22, Cam Johnson 4-8 3-3 14, Devin Barksdale 5-11 2-3 14, Imoree Young 1-1 0-0 3, Ethan Duke 1-2 0-0 2, Dee Prothro 0-0 0-2 0, Jaquan Ervin 0-0 0-0 0, Kydric Fisher 0-1 0-0 0, Damonte Sinclair 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-50 15-23 81.

Piedmont        19        15        11        14 –     59
Jacksonville   15        17        26        23 –     81
3-point goals: Piedmont 6-18 (Odam 0-2, Bethel 3-5, Pinto 1-5, Wilson 2-3, Alford 0-1, Murphy 0-1, L. Rhinehart 0-1); Jacksonville 8-24 (Broom 1-3, Cd. Johnson 1-4, Cm. Johnson 3-7, Barksdale 2-8, Young 1-1, Fisher 0-1). Rebounds: Piedmont 25 (Odam 7, Bethel 5); Jacksonville 31 (Broom 8, Cd. Johnson 5, Prothro 5). Total fouls: Piedmont 14, Jacksonville 12.

Alex Odam hit a number of tough shots in the first half to keep Piedmont in the game with Jacksonville. On the cover, Cam Johnson came to life in the second half and sparked the Golden Eagles to victory. (Photo by Greg Warren)

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