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Johnson takes on star's role

February 20, 2004|by TIM KOELBLE

koelble@herald-mail.com

BRUNSWICK, Md. - If there were Oscars handed out for basketball performances in the supporting role category, Gene Johnson would be giving an acceptance speech.

On many teams other than No. 1 South Hagerstown, Johnson could very well the star of the show.

In the shadow of teammate David Miner, the 6-foot-6 senior has played second fiddle to help the Rebels to an 18-2 record. But Johnson took center stage on Thursday with a career-high 39 points to lead an 80-55 victory over Brunswick.

Johnson was fabulous from the opening tip against the Railroaders as he topped the career-high 28 he set earlier this season. South remained unbeaten through 12 MVAL Antietam games, heading into Tuesday's showdown with second-place North.

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South coach Bob Starkey employed a high-low post offense against Brunswick's box-and-one zone defense, with Johnson operating off the block. The results were devastating.

Johnson hit 17 of 25 shots, displaying a deft touch from 12 feet and in, when he wasn't on the offensive glass for putbacks. Johnson scored 14 points in the first quarter and topped it in the third by hitting 7 of 8 shots and eight rebounds to become a thorn in Brunswick's side.

"This week in practice we've been working on the release point of my shot," Johnson said. "Coach said the shot has been better and he told me to start shooting more. He's also told me to be more intense and keep on going until I get tired."

Miner started the game with an NBA-length 3-pointer but Brunswick (8-11, 4-8) vaulted to an 11-5 lead in the first three minutes, led by Cody Hickerson's two quick goals. Miner brought the Rebels back to a 14-14 tie at the 2:26 mark with two baskets.

Johnson sandwiched two hoops around a Jesse Gutekunst basket and the Rebels never looked back. Miner hit 5 of 8 shots in the second period to build a 17-point first half before settling on a 39-27 halftime lead.

It was costly, however, as Miner was saddled with his third personal foul just 18 seconds before halftime.

"I was worried about this game because they had their stars back," Starkey said. "I knew we'd see the box-in-one defense but we just don't play that much against it."

Brunswick's lineup was bolstered by a healthier Jason Anderson and Craig Wachter, who missed the 85-39 pasting at South just eight games ago when Miner scored 44 points.

Johnson's third period helped South stretch the lead to 58-40 before the Railroaders mounted a comeback to crawl withing 64-51 with 5:33 remaining. It ended when Miner hit a runner in the lane followed by a three-point play by Johnson to close a 14-4 countering run by the Rebels.

"Gene, we've been telling him, needs to get more intense," Starkey said. "We know we have some other weapons ... the (players) just need to know it. Now, we have to get Gutekunst shooting more."

Miner ended with 23 points, giving him a total of 1,613 career points, 151 shy of the Washington County public school record of 1,764 points held by Smithsburg's Colby Bachtell.

Gutekunst added 10 points and 18 rebounds as South owned a 49-37 edge on the boards. Johnson had 13 rebounds and matched Miner with six assists.

Brunswick added to its problems with turnovers, including 14 which turned the tide in the first half.

"Two key points to the game were our first-half turnovers and the third period by Johnson," said Brunswick coach Jim Sklencar said. "We had many open looks but we couldn't make them (24-for-65 shooting). Against South you have to play a perfect game."

Anderson led Brunswick with 20 points and 13 rebounds despite a swollen ankle, while Wachter and Trey Banks each had 10 points.

With the victory, South wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the Maryland 2A West tournament, which begins Feb. 27. The seedings and matchups will be drawn on Sunday.

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