CENTRAL – It was the perfect way for Denham Springs’ C.J. Johnson to end a career night.
Johnson calmly stepped to the free throw line and knocked down a pair of free throws in the last three seconds of play that helped the Yellow Jackets secure a 63-57 non-district road victory Tuesday over Central.
“Free throws are something we practice every day,” Johnson said “Coach has us on the line at practice in these types of situations. It really didn’t faze us. We hit them when we needed them, and it gave us the game.”
Johnson was just part of a strong showing from the free throw line over the final 1 minute, 33 seconds where Denham Springs (16-13) went 7-of-8 to stretch out its lead and fend off Central’s determined effort.
The Wildcats (12-12) got back-to-back 3-pointers from Rylen Walker and Destin Franklin over a 28-second span, cutting the Yellow Jackets lead to 58-57 with 1:21 remaining.
DSHS coach Kevin Caballero used a timeout and instructed his team to spread the floor and try and take precious time off the clock while trying to protect its one-point lead.
Central, which tried trapping the ball to try and force a turnover, wound up fouling Xavier Miles, who made a pair of free throws with 23.1 seconds to go for a 60-57 lead.
After Franklin came up short on a drive with 13.7 seconds showing, DSHS’ Kaleb Drummer was fouled and made the first of his two-shot opportunity to make it 61-57.
The Yellow Jackets then came up with a steal which Johnson converted into two points two a pair of free throws, capping his game-high 21-point outing.
“Central has a pretty good team and we just stood up and had the toughness to get the game,” Johnson said.
Caballero commended his team which played without starter DJ Williams (official football visit) and Miles, who sat out the entire second quarter with a pair of fouls. Reserve guard JaBarry Fortenberry had an illness and wasn’t available to play.
“It gave me a good opportunity to step up and show coach what I can do without Micah being in a groove, X being in foul trouble and us not having DJ,” Johnson said. “I decided to step up and show coach what I could do.”
It was an all-too-familiar end for Central, which lost its seventh game that was decided by less than 10 points and second straight.
“We’re in that position a lot,” said Central coach Brian Hargroder, who credited assistant Scott Osborne, for putting together a solid game plan that kept the Wildcats close throughout. “When we get down, we kind of pick up the intensity. We get up right on the edge and the other team ends with the run. Denham made their free throws.”
Miles scored 11 of his 16 points in the second half and Banks added 14 for DSHS which shot 47 percent (21 of 44).
Johnson filled a huge scoring void in the second quarter with 11 points while Miles was on the bench and Banks limited to five first-half points – all from the free throw line.
Johnson scored all but one of the Yellow Jackets points in that quarter, resulting in as much as a 27-21 lead, before the Wildcats closed with a basket from Malik Hillard and two free throws from Walker in the last 42 seconds of play and trailed, 27-25.
“I thought he played well offensively,” Caballero said of Johnson. “He made some plays when we really need some to be made.”
Hargroder also praised Johnson’s play.
“I thought Johnson hit some timely shots when they needed them to keep us at bay,” he said.
Walked led a balanced scoring effort with 14 points. Franklin had 12 and Lee 11 for the Wildcats, who made 36.2 percent (17 of 47) of their shots.
The pace of play ramped up considerably in the third quarter where the lead changed hands three times on the first three baskets of the second half.
Central, which made 8 of 17 3-pointers, got a pair of shots from behind the arc from Braxston Lee and Franklin, sandwiched around Miles’ inside basket on a feed from Drummer.
Banks scored his first basket on an offensive rebound, resulting in the game’s lone tie (31-31) when Johnson gave DSHS the lead back for good.
Johnson scored on a pass from Miles and made a free throw for a 36-31 lead at the 4:11 mark. The Yellow Jackets increased their biggest margin to 43-35 with a minute to play in the third quarter when JV Johnson picked up a loose ball in the lane and scored from underneath the goal.
“I have to give it to my guys,” Caballero said. “We could have hung our heads, but we didn’t. We attacked and got on the free throw line. I told them if we got to the free throw line and made them, we were going to win, and it was fortunate for us.”