By Maurice Patton
With the District 8-AAA regular-season title already in hand – along with the top seed in the upcoming district tournament and an automatic berth in the region tourney – Columbia Central still had plenty to play for heading into Tuesday’s matchup with visiting Franklin County.
Four first-quarter 3-point baskets from senior guard Cam Johnson helped the Lions avenge the second of their two league losses in a 68-53 victory that could have been even more decisive than it was.
“We had more energy than we did the last time we played them,” said Johnson, who finished with six 3s and a game-high 22 points as Central (18-6, 9-2) won its eighth straight game. “It feels good to get them.”
Following a 65-62 loss on Jan. 5 in Winchester – a defeat that came a week before their 59-57 loss at Tullahoma – the Lions put together a first half Tuesday night that made the outcome look virtually certain. Central led by as many as 14, and Johnson’s fifth trey made it a 34-23 game by intermission.
But in an all-too-familiar scenario, the hosts’ lapses let Franklin County (8-10, 3-8) whittle a 20-point margin down to 50-41 by the end of the third period.
Central regrouped and put the game away in the early stages of the fourth quarter, scoring 18 straight points.
“We’ve got to do a better job of sustaining those leads, instead of letting people cut it back to seven or eight,” coach Nick Campbell said. “That’s something we’ve struggled with all year. I’d say every game we’ve won, we’ve been up double figures at least once or twice in a game and just let ‘em battle back.”
The Lions led 68-41 with two minutes remaining, before clearing the bench and watching Franklin County score the game’s final 12 points.
“We just didn’t hit enough shots, and they were hitting shots,” Rebels coach Mike Holt said. “We just haven’t had our whole team healthy all year. The three times we won, we were healthy.”
Kane Reed scored 17 points to lead Franklin County. Q Martin finished with 18 points and Jordan Davis 11 for Columbia Central, but Johnson set the tone for the winners.
“Any time he can hit two or three in the first quarter, you know he’s going to get five or six because he’s not going to stop shooting,” Campbell said. “That’s his job on our team. It’s hard for me to believe there’s a whole lot of people that can shoot it better than him right now. He’s just getting more and more confident as we go. That’s good to see.”
With a Thursday matchup against visiting Shelbyville to close the regular season, Campbell wants his team to continue building momentum for the upcoming tournament – and the down time that will precede it.
“We wouldn’t want to go into tournament play, with a week off before our next game, on a bad note,” he said, referring to the district semifinals scheduled for Feb. 18. “We’ve just got to continue to get better.
“(The week off) is good. We will have had five games in 11 days; Shelbyville will be our third game in four days. It’ll give us time to recharge a little bit, have a little break, get our legs back, get a mental break and get ready to play.”
Columbia Central boys 68, Franklin Co. 53
FC 11 12 18 12 – 53
CC 23 11 16 18 – 68
Franklin Co. (53) – Ke’Andre Johnson 9, Aydan Yates 5, Shaimar Lyons 8, L.T. Taylor 3, Kaleb Rigsby 4, Jamal Blackwell 5, Kane Reed 17, Taylor Stovall 2
Columbia Central (68) – Cam Johnson 22, Carter Szydlowwski 2, Q Martin 18, Omari Franklin 5, Bubba Perkins 8, Roni Bailey 2, Jordan Davis 11
3-pointers – Franklin Co. 3 (Johnson, Yates, Blackwell), Columbia Central 10 (Johnson 6, Martin, Franklin, Perkins, Davis)
Photos by Ric Beu / SM-Tn Sports