There are few places Tift County’s Micah Johnson would rather be than at the free throw line. He showed why again on Saturday and came away with his second state championship.
The senior guard, a member of the 2014 state championship team, scored 24 points to help the No. 7-ranked Blue Devils beat No. 4 Norcross 55-52 in the Class AAAAAAA title game. Johnson was 16-for-18 at the line and proved to be the difference in the game.
“That’s my comfort zone,” Johnson said. “I practice that all the time. We all get on that free throw line. We shoot 100, we shoot 50, we shoot as many as we can until we can’t shoot no more.”
Tift County was 24-for-26 from the line as a team, which enabled the Blue Devils to hold off a furious Norcross finish. Tift made 20 of 27 in the semifinals.
Tift County led 51-44 when Rashod Bateman hit two free throws with 51.9 seconds left. But thanks to some defensive stops, Norcross was within a point at 53-52 when Joseph Toppin completed a three-point play with 10.4 seconds left.
Bateman hit two more free throws to extend the lead to three points with 8.6 seconds. Norcross raced downcourt and Kyle Sturdivant’s 3-pointer at the buzzer hit the rim and bounced away, setting off a raucous Tift County celebration.
“I’m disappointed for our seniors who have been here three and four years and given us everything,” Norcross coach Jesse McMillan said. “That last two minutes showed what Norcross basketball is all about. The guys dug down and had a chance. That’s all you can ask.”
Tift County (29-2) got 18 points from Bateman, who quit the team a year ago and had to petition coach Eric Holland in order to return. Virginia Tech signee P.J. Horne had four points — 19 below his average — and five rebounds. Horne, Johnson and Fred Lloyd were all members of the 2014 championship team.
Norcross (26-8) got 15 points from Dalvin White and 13 points from Lance Thomas. Georgia signee Rayshaun Hammonds had eight points and eight rebounds before fouling out with 3:42 left in the game.
Norcross led 21-19 at halftime, but Tift County seemed content to set the tempo and direct the pace of play. The emerged in the third quarter out outscore Norcross 13-8 and set up a furious fourth quarter.
“I told them we control our locker room,” Holland said. “We control our celebration after the game. There’s going to be a sad locker room and there’s going to be a happy locker room. For the next 16 minutes we’ve got an opportunity to have a happy locker room and we came out and did it.”
Johnson said, “It’s going to be a happy locker room. I thank God for putting us in the position to be here.”
Norcross (52): Rayshaun Hammonds 8, Lance Thomas 13, Kyle Sturdivant 3, Jordan Goldwire 8, Dalvin White 15, Joseph Toppin 5.
Tift County (55): Fred Lloyd 2, Micah Johnson 24, Rashod Bateman 18, Marquavious Johnson 2, Preston Horne 4, Montavious Terrell 5.