The Eastside Eagles picked an unfortunate time to play their worst basketball game of the season as the Eagles were steamrolled by the Johnson Knights 88-67 in the Region 8-AAAA championship game at Lanier High School Tuesday night.
With the loss, the Eagles dropped to 23-3 on the season. Johnson improved its record to 23-5.
Senior Anthony Henderson led the Eagles with 13 points, and Treyvon Francis added 12. The Knights' James Hodges led all scorers with 23, while teammate Ty Cockfield added 21.
“We gave up a season-high 87 points to a team that couldn’t shoot jump shots,” said Eastside coach Greg Freeman. “We allowed them to get to the basket. We just did not follow the script and we came unglued. We allowed them to get out in transition and get early buckets to start the game and they got some confidence. It just seemed like we were playing in space and not getting to where we needed to get to.”
Right from the opening tip, Johnson seemed to be the quicker team. The Knights led 4-0 less than a minute in, 6-0 at the 6:38 mark and 9-0 with just 1:51 played. Hoping to slow the Knights, Freeman put defensive sparkplug Jamal Hardge into the game, but Hardge committed three fouls in 3:32 and had to sit out until late in the second quarter.
Meanwhile, the Knights seemed to hit every shot they put up and led 28-14 after one quarter.
Eastside settled down a bit in the second quarter and trimmed Johnson’s lead to 36-28 with 5:10 left in the period. But, the Knights hit six consecutive free-throws to push the lead back to 12, 40-28. The Eagles had no answer for Johnson’s inside game, and, with uncharacteristically poor defense, trailed 47-33 at halftime.
It was more of the same in the third period as the Knights opened with a 6-1 run that included two made free-throws after Freeman was called for a technical foul. Eastside had chances to cut into the Knights' lead, but after Hardge fouled out at the 3:32 mark of the period, the Eagles never got closer than 19 points and trailed 68-48 after three quarters.
According to Freeman, the Eagles fell apart after Francis committed his third foul.
“After Francis picked up his third foul, we stopped running our offense and we started going one-on-one and we didn’t play assignment basketball on defense,” Freeman said. “I accept the blame for that."
Johnson never let up on the Eagles and led 70-50 with 5:51 left in the game, 75-53 some 30 seconds later, and 78-53 at the 4:43 mark. From there, Freeman put his starters on the bench, and the Knights rolled on to win the game, 88-67.
Luckily for the Eagles, they won’t have long to think about their first loss of 2014 as they host Atlanta’s Grady Knights (16-10) Saturday in Covington for the Class AAAA state championship opener at 5:30 p.m.