Even though he only scored eight points Saturday, Micah Johnson proved to be the sparkplug Carroll County needed as it secured its first River Ridge District of the season – a 53-46 win over Christiansburg in Hillsville.
Having missed the previous three weeks with an ankle injury, Johnson returned Saturday to collect six steals and more importantly help take pressure off the Cavalier offense. Carroll County (5-12, 1-9 River Ridge District) struggled offensively in Johnson’s absence, although his older brother, Noah, did an admirable job despite constant pressure.
Micah’s value to the team was never more evident than in the final minute with the Cavaliers desperately trying to hang on to a 50-44 lead. After a Garret Haynes free throw with 45.6 seconds remaining, the Demons rolled the ball up the court in an effort to save precious seconds. In a rarely seen move, Johnson dove in out of nowhere and tied the ball up with the Christiansburg ballhandler. With the possession error in Carroll’s favor, the Cavs regained possession and made 3-of-8 free throws down the stretch to seal the team’s first district win of the season.
“We kind of go as he goes and that is one thing we’ve been missing the last three weeks. It was a lot easier to get into our offense tonight with Micah,” Carroll County head coach Brad Hawks said. “I’m just real glad to have him back because I didn’t know after he hurt his ankle if we would have him back this year or not.”
Even though it cost his team two points, the younger of the Johnson brothers also made a huge momentum play late in the third quarter. With his team leading 39-28, Micah stepped in front of a Christiansburg player and drew a charge. Wrapped up in the emotion of the moment, Johnson was whistled for a technical foul that helped the Demons net two points. It was a technical foul Coach Hawks didn’t have a problem with, however.
“Micah drew a charge and that is something we haven’t done much of this year,” Hawks said. “He was as excited as I was and clapped and rah-rahed a little bit. I will take that because he took a charge, we just don’t want to make a habit out of it.”
Johnson’s return also helped Carroll’s talented post players. Senior Jordan Combs had a huge night, scoring 16 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. His junior sidekick, Garret Haynes, danced around Christiansburg defenders to the tune of 17 points and eight rebounds as the Demons had no answer for his spin moves in the paint.
“We went over the Rocker Step.’ I said, ‘You guys are almost being defiant, you are not doing what we asked,’” Hawks said. “I said, ‘Just try it one time. If it works, keep doing it, and it worked for both of our bigs tonight. (Garret) has had success lately doing that, and that is big.”
Christiansburg went on a 9-0 run late in the first quarter to seize early momentum, building a 15-6 lead. Carroll ended the quarter on a 7-0 run of its own, however, highlighted by a Micah Johnson steal and layup before he topped it with a 3-point buzzer beater off the glass to trim the deficit to 15-13.
Combs’ offensive putback put the Cavs ahead 20-18 midway through the second quarter, a lead Carroll would not relinquish. Up five points in the final seconds of the opening half, Haynes scored inside to up the Cavalier advantage to 31-24 at the half.
After Micah Johnson drew a charge and a technical late in the third quarter, Carroll responded as Noah Johnson’s 3-pointer gave the Cavs their biggest lead at 42-30 heading into the final period.
Christiansburg made things interesting, however, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers to open the fourth, cutting Carroll’s advantage to 42-36. Christiansburg got within five points twice in the final period before Johnson’s huge play to tie the ball up in the final minute. The Cavaliers could have salted the game away but made just 5-of-16 free throws in the fourth quarter and just 15-of-36 (41.7 percent) for the game.
“When you are shooting 59 percent on the season that is kind of what you expect down the road,” Hawks said. “Foul trouble kind of plagued both teams the whole night. I think there were 26 fouls called in the first half. You’ve got to make free throws. An old parent told me one time that every close game comes down to free throws, and I have tried to relay that on to the guys. Tonight just proves it. It can make you or break you.”
Poor free throw shooting aside, Saturday’s win was a huge one for the Cavaliers. With the victory, Carroll should jump up a couple of spots in playoff seeding. Hopefully, it will also help the team get some momentum going heading into the postseason.
“I hope it jumpstarts us a little bit. The guys just have a hard time buying in to what we want them to do this year. We’ve had a hard time conveying to them exactly what we want of them and what they are capable of, and hopefully tonight just proves to them if they will buy in 110 percent then good things will happen eventually,” Hawks said. “I don’t care who we beat, it’s good just to get a win in the River Ridge. That puts us a game up in the seedings on a couple of teams. We are probably going to be a five (seed), possibly a four depending on what happens this week. It could very possibly end up being a home game for us in the first round.”
Cburg 15 9 6 16 – 46
Carroll 13 18 11 11 – 53
Christiansburg – Brown 0 0-5 0, Straum 1 0-0 3, Simpkins 0 2-4 2, Christians 1 0-0 3, Carr 5 2-4 14, Anderson 3 3-3 9, Cane 3 6-6 12, Clayborne 1 1-3 3. 3-pointers – Carr 2, Straum 1, Christian 1.
Carroll County – M. Johnson 3 1-6 8, N. Johnson 1 0-1 3, Hodges 2 5-6 9, Case 0 0-2 0, Haynes 7 3-8 17, Combs 5 6-13 16. 3-pointers – M. Johnson 1, N. Johnson 1.
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on [email protected]