There is a reason William Johnson and Kerwin Washington schedule each other’s basketball team for an early-season matchup and every fan in Evangel Christian Academy’s gym saw it first-hand on Thursday night.
“The best basketball programs have to play each other,” said Washington, who has led Evangel Christian to three consecutive Class A finals, winning the last two. “It’s an early test. Those guys have just come off the football field so we were trying to sneak one.”
The Lions (4-0) managed to pull it out, rallying from a 13-0 deficit to eventually force overtime, then relying on Tyree Curry’s eight points in the overtime period to subdue the Warriors 58-49 to hand Lee-Scott its first loss of the season.
“Kerwin and Evangel have a great program,” said Johnson, a veteran of AISA Final Four matchups at Tuscaloosa Academy before moving to Lee-Scott after the 2016 season. “That’s only going to make us better. We learned a lot about ourselves tonight. This is only our second game after two practices together – we had a quick turnaround from football – but we want to schedule tough early and kind of figure out who we are and where we want to go. Your weaknesses will show when you play really good competition. Win or lose, this makes us better.”
Early on, the Warriors appeared to have the upper hand on both ends of the court, jumping out to a 13-0 lead before Marcus Townsend nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to put Evangel on the board entering the second period.
“We had discipline issues with a couple of guys,” Washington explained. “The two guys we put in, Kennedy Holland and Jon Michael Clemons, played real well for us. We wanted to hold (Lee-Scott) until we could get our (regular) guys in and those guys were key tonight.”
The Lions suddenly caught fire, switching the momentum quickly to the home side and finally catching Lee-Scott at 16-16 just before halftime on a Jakolvian Johnson basket with an assist from Curry.
In the third quarter, the Lions slowly pulled ahead – using a Holland 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 33-25 lead – but the Warriors came charging back and forced overtime on a Dylan Hickman 3-pointer with 43 seconds remaining.
But while Lee-Scott (1-1) had their moments and showed why they will be a postseason force in AAA, this was a night for Curry. In the final two minutes of regulation and the four minutes of overtime, the junior point guard scored 13 points by converting all seven free-throw attempts along with three baskets before assisting on two others, accounting for 17 of the Lions’ final 19 points in a 19-8 run that rallied Evangel from a two-point deficit.
“He’s a special talent,” Washington said. “Definitely one of the best players in our association. His talent is unmatched and he’s steady. He doesn’t get rattled, he doesn’t get tired. He willed his team to win. He gave some great assists to our guys and set them up by taking the defense on him.”
Hickman led Lee-Scott with 16 points, followed by Connor McGinty with 13 – including all five of the Warriors’ points in overtime – and Carson Alexander with eight. Johnson was pleased with his team’s effort, but noted a 2-for-11 performance at the free-throw line.
“You shoot 18 percent from the free throw line, you’re not going to win very many basketball games,” Johnson said, “so I was hoping to see us shoot the ball a little better from the free-throw line. The effort was there. We played hard and I thought we defended well for most of the game.”
Curry finished with 25 points, followed by Townsend with 10 and Johnson with nine as Washington was pleased with his team’s performance.
“Lee-Scott is one of the toughest teams you can play,” he said. “In order for us to gauge where we are as a program, we want to play the best programs. And that’s why we scheduled Lee-Scott, Glenwood, Tuscaloosa, Macon-East.”
Lee-Scott girls 55, Evangel Christian 26
In a battle of transfers, Chloe Johnson had a better supporting cast in cruising to a 55-26 win over Evangel on Thursday.
Johnson, an all-state performer at Tuscaloosa Academy since earning a starting job in the seventh grade, moved with her parents to Lee-Scott over the summer, bolstering the ball-handling strength of the Warriors.
Evangel, meanwhile, is rebuilding its depth after losing ball handlers in last year’s trip to the state tournament, creating an issue for a team that would like to rely on 6-foot-3 forward Zaria Johnson provided the Lady Lions can find a way to get her the ball.
It didn’t work in the first half as Johnson and her Lee-Scott teammates harassed the inexperienced guards and forced numerous turnovers in cruising to a 31-7 halftime lead.
Chloe Johnson led the way with 12 points, including eight in the second quarter despite picking up two quick personal fouls in the first two minutes of the game and sitting on the bench in foul trouble.
Sterling Tucker added 10 points for Lee-Scott (2-0).
Zaria Johnson, who spent much of the second and fourth quarters on the bench in foul trouble, still managed 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots, hitting 7 of 13 shots from the field.