DUNCANVILLE – Want proof that anything is possible? See Eddie Johnson.
On a night when every shot was contested and every moment intense, the 6-foot-4 Midlothian post player made two of the biggest plays for the season. And they couldn’t have come at better time.
Johnson’s half court heave as time expired in the first half gave the Panthers a seven-point lead over Mesquite Poteet in the bi-district playoff game and the shot turned out to be the margin of victory as well. With less than two seconds remaining, the senior sank the first of two free throw attempts to give his squad a three-point edge as the Panthers hung on for a 52-49 win to advance in the playoffs.
Both are areas of the game where Johnson struggles. But on this night, the time in the gym was rewarded
“It felt real good. I practice (that halfcourt shot) everyday. Even though the results in the game don’t show it I practice on it everyday and like coach says hard work pays off,” Johnson said.
Up 31-27 with time winding down, Midlothian (20-13) missed on the offensive end to give Poteet (16-15) a chance at cutting the gap with little time remaining. But a slew of defenders swarmed the ball handler to force a loose ball situation. Zach Hofstad came up with the change and from his knees flipped the ball to Johnson who proceeded to nonchalantly toss it from some 35 feet into the net.
Normally a short range shooter, Johnson searched his memory bank for the last time he made a 3-pointer in a high school regulation game. The answer – during his freshman season.
“He hit that shot tonight from halfcourt right before the half and that was the difference in the game. He practices that shot all the time and he makes it in practice. Not 50 percent or anything,” coach Glenn Hartson said.
The positive vibes lasted into the third period as the Panthers raced out to a 43-32 lead on Derrick Agbaroji’s driving lay-up.
However it stopped there as the Pirates went on a 9-0 run to close the gap to two entering the fourth period. The score would become tied at 43 on a Eddie Adesodun shot at the 6:16 mark of the period.
The knotted score last less than 30 seconds as Blaine Blackburn drove the lane for a shot off glass and a foul to give the team a three-point play and the 46-43 lead it would never relinquish.
The victory came into jeopardy on free throw shooting as Agbaroji was fouled while shooting but could only make one shot to give Midlothian a 51-47 lead. Poteet cut that gap to two at the 1:43 mark to set up the thrilling finish.
After a Poteet turnover the Panthers were sent to the line for a 1-and-1. The front end rimmed out to set up the final 42 seconds of play. Johnson would force a jumpball off a miss but the ball would stay with Poteet. Another miss was rebounded by the big man who was immediately fouled with 1.75 seconds left, sending him to the line for the 1-and-1.
For the season, Johnson’s free throw shooting average is just above 50 percent. But the first attempt was nothing but net for the three-point lead that sealed the game.
“We work with Eddie on his free throws and his soft touch and the first one was a pretty shot. I didn’t care if he missed the second one,” Hartson said. “Really, I wanted him to miss the second one but I didn’t tell Eddie that, but I figured he was going to miss the second one. I didn’t want them to get the ball out of bounds and throw it in.”
That plan played out to a tee as the second attempt clanked off and Poteet’s three-quarter toss was nowhere close sealing the win for the Panthers.
On a night when defense forced stops and easy lay-ups went by the wayside, Johnson proved that working hard enough will make things happen. And if he has anything to say about it, the hard work and success are far from over.
“It’s a big win going in as the No. 1 seed and we’re going down to east Texas. If we would have lost it would have been like, I don’t know,” Johnson said. “We worked so hard for this and like coach says hard work pays off and it was just a good team effort.”
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