A.L. Johnson upends Georgiana for trip to state tournament

(contributed photo)

(contributed photo)

DOTHAN — A.L. Johnson (14-4) is headed to its first state tournament after downing Georgiana 72-68 in the Class 1A South Regional Championship Tuesday night.

“It feels good being the first team at A.L. Johnson to advance to the Final Four,” A.L.. Johnson coach Johnney Ford said. “We’re actually the first team in Marengo County to advance to the Final Four.”

The Eagles trailed 67-58 with 3:07 to play in the game when Tywon Scott knocked down a shot to help ignite a 14-1 run to end the game.

“Well I just told the guys that we couldn’t play Georgiana’s brand of basketball. We had to play our own game,” Ford said. “We sort of got out of playing our game. We were rushing shots and not taking our time. Once I settled them down, we did what we were supposed to.”

With 2:50 to go, Jeremy Mitchell hit a free throw to make it 67-61 before Leo Baker drained a three with 2:39 to play that left ALJ down 67-64.

Mitchell then stole the ball and turned it into a charity stripe visit where he knocked down the back end of a two-shot trip to make it 67-65.

With 1:30 to play, Charles Edwards tied the game at 67 all. After the Eagles missed a pair of free throws with 55 seconds to play, Shermon Kennedy continued his career night when grabbed the rebound off the second miss and put it back up for the 69-67 ALJ lead.

“I called him the other day and talked to him, told him his scoring had dropped off and he needed to get focused and pick up his game,” Ford said of the resurgent Kennedy. “He came out and hit a couple of threes and that was big for us right off the bat.”

Georgiana had the chance to tie it with 38 seconds left before Travales Smith missed the back end of a two-shot chance. Edwards followed nine seconds later with a pair of free throws to stretch the advantage to 71-68 for the Eagles. Kennedy then iced the game with a steal with five seconds left before going to the line for a free throw to end it at 72-68.

“They weren’t used to being in that situation,” Ford said. “They were used to blowing everybody out and ripping and running. We kind of beat them at their own game tonight.”

The Eagles opened on a frenetic pace and did not trail until the 5:41 mark in the fourth quarter. ALJ had a 24-17 lead after one and a 41-35 lead going into halftime. Georgiana cut it to 54-50 after three and embarked on a 17-4 run to take its first lead before the Eagles stormed back.

Kennedy led all scorers with 28 points and 13 rebounds. Mitchell added 10 points and seven boards for ALJ. Desmond Mair also had 10 points. Edwards, Scott and Baker eight finished with eight.

Jacquez Payton led Georgiana with 20 points. Richard Boggan had 16 points and 10 rebounds while Jeremy Smith had 15 points and eight rebounds.

ALJ pulled off the win despite shooting just 41 percent from the floor, making only 29 of 70 shots. Conversely, Georgiana shot 54 percent (27-of-50) but made no three-pointers in the game whereas the Eagles hit five shots from deep.

Georgiana won the free throw battle, shooting 50 percent on 28 attempts while ALJ hit 45 percent of its 20 attempts.

The Eagles won the rebounding margin 43-36 while snagging 21 offensive and 22 defensive boards and limiting GHS to only 11 offensive rebounds.

“We just pretty much played solid defense. We didn’t trap them at all,” Ford said of the decision to shy away from the press and rely on half-court defense and rebounding. “We got back in our defense and played excellent defense. They thrive off offensive rebounds, so we limited their rebound chances.”

A.L. Johnson’s nine steals buoyed a 16-turnover effort by Georgiana.

A.L. Johnson is set to play Monday at 1:30 p.m. at the BJCC in Birmingham in the state semifinals. They will match up with 26-8 Sacred Heart, the Northeast Regional champions. Sacred Heart downed Talladega County Central 65-54 Tuesday night.

Georgiana ends its season at 29-4.

“We’ve got a week to get our legs back under us and prepare for Sacred Heart,” Ford said.