Shooting woes plague ALJ in 34-point semifinal loss

BIRMINGHAM — A.L. Johnson’s storybook run came to an abrupt end Monday in the Class 1A state semifinals with a 74-40 loss to Sacred Heart.

“I would just like to thank God for this opportunity to coach a great group of young guys. They came a long way,” ALJ coach Johnney Ford said. “These seniors hadn’t won an area game since they’d been in school. To come back this year and win the area and the region and make it to the Final Four after the last seven or eight years only winning a total of about 10 games, that was a great accomplishment. My hats are off to them for the way practiced and were determined. They just fell short today.”

The Eagles struggled from the outset, falling behind through one quarter of play. A.L. Johnson cut the deficit to five points late in the second quarter but could scratch no closer. Sacred Heart led 34-21 at half and continued to pour it on the rest of the way.

ALJ could find no offensive rhythm in the contest, hitting a paltry 15 of 70 (21.4 percent) of its shots from the floor.

“We really didn’t come into the game to take a lot of outside shots like that. Our game plan was to drive the ball to the rack to set up our outside shot. We were driving and then we’d pull up before we got to the rim,” Ford said. “We took 70 shots and only made 15. That really set up a lot of Sacred Heart fast break points.”

Shermon Kennedy led his team with 28 points in the regional final against Georgiana, but found himself in foul trouble all day Monday. Kennedy picked up his fourth foul with more than seven minutes left in the third quarter. He fouled out with more than a minute left in the third.

“It affected us a whole lot because he couldn’t get in any type of rhythm,” Ford said of the foul trouble experienced by Kennedy and others. “I had to take him in and out of the game, so he never got into the flow of the game. It affected his game a whole lot.”

The Eagles committed 18 fouls compared to Sacred Heart’s 11 and were out-rebounded 53-46 by SC.

The loss ends an improbable run for ALJ that was fueled in part by a late-season collapse during its football campaign.

“It was pretty good. We came this far. We hadn’t really left the area in a long time. We were just playing ball and believing in what we could do. We made it pretty far,” senior guard Charles Edwards said. “Today, everything didn’t go right. We were kind of dragging. As a team, we were going to fall.”

Leo Baker led ALJ with nine points and seven rebounds. Edwards and Kennedy each had seven points and two rebounds. Jeremy Mitchell finished with five points and seven rebounds. Desmond Mair had eight points and six rebounds. Tywon Scott grabbed a team high nine rebounds.

Diante Wood led Sacred Heart with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Kevion Nolan finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds. D.J. Heath had 14 points and 12 rebounds. Kavarri Ross had 10 points and six rebounds.