Johnson, Wilkins play big

Published 9:25 am Thursday, January 21, 2016

When you want to talk about great pressure performances in intra-county games, you’ll now have to reference Brooks Johnson of South Davie’s boys basketball team.

Johnson’s fourth-quarter heroics rallied his Tigers to a 46-44 win at Ellis.

For North Davie, it has become a season of “first time since …” and “most since …” With 10 straight wins, the Wildcats own the longest winning streak in their 23-year history as a middle school. At 11-2, they have the most wins in nine years. Their amazing seventh grader, James Wilkins, is scoring 17.8 points a game, good for the highest average in 20 years. And North beat its longtime tormentor, Ellis, for the first time in three years.

Wilkins poured in 24 points as North overwhelmed visiting North Iredell 48-28 on Jan. 5. Aaron Williams added 11 and Nate Brooks six.

Wilkins (14), Adrian Cranfill (nine) and Grant Copeland (eight) paced the offense as North defeated visiting Wesleyan 42-31 on Jan. 7.

North’s next game, at home against North Wilkes on Jan. 11, was all North Davie. Wilkins put up 21 points in a 57-21 win. Jacob Allen had eight, while Williams and Copeland had six apiece.

Ellis had visiting South Davie on the ropes on Jan. 11, but the Tigers came storming back to steal a 46-44 decision.

Luke Stillson’s six points, including a 3-pointer, helped the Jaguars take an 11-8 lead in the first quarter. Ellis had a 17-14 lead at halftime. Ellis extended the lead to 31-23 in the third, thanks to Nate Hampton’s nine points on 5-of-6 free-throw shooting and Sam Hendrix’s 3-ball.

“Ellis played harder than we did, especially for three quarters,” South coach Germain Mayfield said. “They played really well.”

South missed M.J. Holleman, who was sidelined with an injury.

“M.J.’s been doing so much for us,” Mayfield said. “He’s a big part of what we do defensively and rebounding.”

The Tigers pulled out a 50-44 win over Ellis on Dec. 8, and they snuck out of this one with a victory because Johnson stole the show at crunch time. In the fourth, he hit three of his four 3-pointers, went 3-for-3 at the line and scored 12 points. Alex Ratledge had five, Austin Shaver hit a 3-pointer and Evan Little picked a great time for his only two points as South outscored Ellis 23-13 in the fourth. Ellis’ fourth-quarter points came from Hendrix (six), Shaemarr Hairston (four) and Jake Hill, who buried a 3-pointer.

Little gave South its first lead since it was 5-4 in the first quarter. With the score tied at 44 and 1:20 remaining, Johnson hit two free throws for what proved to be the game’s final points. With 17 seconds left, South left the door cracked by missing the front end of a one-and-one. The ball wound up going out of bounds off South, and Ellis had the ball under its basket with eight-tenths of a second left. Ellis coach Johnny Hill called timeout to draw up a play. Then Mayfield called time. Then Hill took another timeout.

Ellis failed to get a shot off and fell to 5-5. South improved to 9-3.

With 21 points, Johnson enjoyed the fifth 20-point game of his two-year South career. He raised his average to 14.9.

“Somebody had to step up and Brooks broke loose,” Mayfield said. “It seemed like it all came back to back to back. He put us on his back.”

Ratledge had 10 points. Shaver turned in a career-high eight, including two 3s. Bryceson Cozart had four.

For Ellis, Hampton had 14 and Hendrix 11. Stillson and Hairston had six each.

North’s game at St. Leo’s on Jan. 12 was another mismatch. The Wildcats scored the most points in 44 games and won 66-27. They won 66-59 at Ellis in 2012-13.

Wilkins had 24 points, while Williams and Cranfill had 10 each. All three saw less than a half of action.

Ellis’ game at North Davie on Jan. 14 was deja vu for the Jaguars, who let another one slip away.

They led 15-11 after one, 28-21 at the half and 36-30 after the third. North rallied to hand Ellis a painful 45-42 loss, outscoring the Jags 15-6 in the fourth.

At 5-6, Ellis has its longest losing streak (three) in three years.

“I thought both teams played great,” North coach Matt McPherson said. “Ellis did exactly what we thought they would do, except for the fact in the first half the Hairston did what we thought the Hampton kid would do. Give them credit. They executed their halfcourt sets great. We made changes at halftime and did a great job scoring in the second half as well as stopping the pick-and-roll.”

Wilkins saved the day for North. With the score 42-42, he drove and put the ball up, his shot rolling around the rim and falling with 3.4 seconds to play. He was fouled and he completed the three-point play to put North in front 45-42. The Wildcats, who had lost seven straight and 12 of 13 in the series, went nuts. They lost all four meetings last year and fell short 36-33 to Ellis on Dec. 3. It was North’s first win in the rivalry since the 66-59 decision at Ellis in 2012-13, when Dylan Shoffner scored 26 and Jared Griggs 18.

“We were in our flex offense, a dribble drive appeared and (Wilkins) went strong to the basket,” McPherson said. “I remember telling James to make sure to make the free throw and set up a defense make or miss. Kids get real excited and I wanted to make sure they were prepared either way.”

Wilkins finished with 23 points for his sixth 20-point game of the season. He has the best average since John Orsillo scored 18.5 per game for the eighth-grade team in 1995-96. Williams went for his average and had nine. Copeland had seven.

At 11-2, the Wildcats have the second-most wins since becoming a middle school in 1993-94. McPherson’s 2006-07 team went 13-5.

“They share the ball and have mastered the offensive and defensive ideas we play with,” McPherson said. “The kids like each other and work hard in practice.”

N. Davie 48, N. Iredell 28 – James Wilkins 24, Aaron Williams 11, Nate Brooks 6.

N. Davie 42, Wesleyan 31 – James Wilkins 14, Adrian Cranfill 9, Grant Copeland 8.

N. Davie 57, N. Wilkes 21 – James Wilkins 21, Jacob Allen 8, Aaron Williams 6, Grant Copeland 6.

S. Davie 46 – Brooks Johnson 21, Alex Ratledge 10, Austin Shaver 8, Bryceson Cozart 4, Evan Little 2, Ben Crenshaw 1.

Ellis 44 – Nate Hampton 14, Sam Hendrix 11, Luke Stillson 6, Shaemarr Hairston 6, Luke Williams 4, Jake Hill 3.

N. Davie 66, St. Leo’s 27 – James Wilkins 24, Aaron Williams 10, Adrian Cranfill  10.

Ellis 42

N. Davie 45 – James Wilkins 23, Aaron Williams 9, Grant Copeland 7.