BROOKLET — In a script that has repeated itself several times already this season, Southeast Bulloch stood up to one of the top teams in its region, only to lose control of the game down the stretch.
The Yellow Jackets (7-13, 3-6 Region 1-AAA) took an early 20-8 lead on Johnson of Savannah (16-3, 5-2) and remained ahead at halftime, but the Atomsmashers dominated play over the final two quarters in earning a 76-59 victory Tuesday night.
“I thought we played very well early on,” SEB coach John Page said. “Not to take anything away from Johnson, but our guys just have to find a way to hang in there when things get tough. It’s not easy, but it’s what you have to do to beat teams in this region.”
Johnson erased the majority of SEB’s early lead before halftime, but the Jackets managed to hold a slim margin into the third quarter. Rajah Bush (17 points) connected on a 3 to give the Atomsmashers their first lead at the 4:37 mark. Bush collected a loose ball off of an SEB turnover on the ensuing possession, putting in an easy layup as Johnson began to slowly pull away.
While SEB remained within striking distance early in the final quarte, the Jackets eventually wore down, missing shots while allowing easy looks as Johnson sealed the win.
Much of Southeast Bulloch’s early success was the result of hot shooting by Markel Ming (17 points). Ming found net on four 3-pointers over the first two periods, but was held to just a pair of free throws and one more 3-ball in the second half.
While SEB’s offense thrived early on, it was Damonte Green — who led all scorers with 18 points — that kept Johnson within striking distance. SEB was able to knock the ball free as Johnson attempted to work the ball inside, but Green consistently found space to drive and score.
Cleveland Cone (8 points) hit 3’s on consecutive trips down the floor to cut SEB’s early lead down to one possession and a 40-37 margin at the break.
As the second half rolled around, Southeast Bulloch’s long-range shots stopped falling while constant pressing and tough inside defense by Johnson forced the Jackets into costly mistakes as momentum swung in favor of the Atomsmashers.
“Johnson was able to turn it up in the second half,” Page said. “Early on, we were able to get to the rim or kick it out for open shots. Later in the game, it seemed like everything we did was contested.
“We gave the ball away a few times and Johnson capitalized. We can’t afford to slip like that against good teams.”
With the loss, Southeast Bulloch now sits at fourth place in its sub-region. The Jackets will need a win over fifth-place Islands Friday in Savannah to stay in the running for a solid seed as the region tournament approaches.
Atomsmashers 61, Lady Jackets 27
Southeast Bulloch has struggled throughout the season in a very tough region.
They Lady Yellow Jackets weren’t done any favors Tuesday night as powerhouse Johnson of Savannah stormed into town, leaving with a decisive 61-27 victory.
The Lady Atomsmashers (12-5, 6-1 Region 1-AAA) never trailed and were brutally consistent, tallying 18 points in each of the first three quarters before riding out the mercy clock in the final period.
Ijeoma Odimgbe led Johnson with 15 points while Ashleigh Simmons (11 points) and Alexis Pierce (10) also reached double-digits. Southeast Bulloch (3-15, 1-8) couldn’t stop a barrage of inside shooting from the Atomsmashers as Simmons hit Johnson’s only 3-pointer and just 10 other points came via free throws.
Destiny Burke had a solid night for SEB, netting 15 points, but was the only Yellow Jacket who was able to be effective on the offensive end.
Jurnee Cotton (6 points), Cole Robertson (4) and Ce-Anne Wilkerson (2) were the only other SEB players able to make a dent in the scoreboard.
Bothe SEB teams will be in action again Friday night as they travel to the coast to take on Islands.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.