Johnson-Savannah crept close to Rutland late in the third quarter Wednesday night, cutting the Hurricanes’ lead to six in the opening round of the GHSA Class AAA playoffs.
But shortly after that, Ty’lik Evans scooped up the ball from an Atom Smashers player and passed ahead to teammate Timori Northcutt, who flipped a no-look pass to Jeremy Braswell.
Braswell took the easy layup, pushing the Hurricanes’ lead to eight. That one seamless score was indicative of Rutland’s play all night, as it went on to beat Johnson 72-62 and advance to the second round.
“We just did what we had to do and finish the game,” Braswell said. “We just go out there and play, to be honest. ... We have a team full of athletes, so it’s not just one person; it’s a team really. Whoever steps up that night just steps up.”
Rutland (25-3) quickly took an early lead as seniors Evans, Dallas Smith, Braswell and Northcutt scored in succession for an 8-0 start. Evans finished with 14, Smith 11, Braswell 24 and Northcutt 17.
The Hurricanes shot 48 percent overall and made 23-of-36 free throws, including 11-of-16 from Braswell.
“I love when they start playing together and start seeing things the way we try and see it,” Rutland head coach Ron Christian said. “(Braswell) played a great game. We stay on him about being a shooter, and when they start coming out at (him), being able to go back and pull up and get a short jump shot. He did exactly what he’s supposed to do. ... Our four guys, they play so well together.”
Rutland managed to hold off Johnson’s 6-foot-8 senior Antwan Maxwell during the first half, only allowing him to score five points. But the second half was another story, as he rattled off seven points to begin the third quarter.
The Hurricanes withstood the Atom Smashers’ runs but not before Maxwell finished with 21 points and JaShaun Carter with 14.
Things got heated between the teams in the fourth, with technical fouls being issued to both sides.
“There were a few things that were uncharacteristic of us,” Christian said. “They know that my policy is really never to give a team an unfair advantage against us, and when you get a technical foul, that is always an unfair advantage against your own team. ...
“I got kinda irate with a couple of my players because of that, but we played good defense. That’s what we always stand on, our defense, and we pulled it out.”
Next for Rutland is a home game against the winner of Thursday’s game between East Jackson and Banks County at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
No matter who the opponent, getting to the Macon Coliseum for a chance at the championship is motivation enough for the seniors whom Braswell calls his brothers.
“This is their third region championship,” Christian said. “These guys have had 20-win seasons. These are the things that are a part of their story, but how do they want their story to end?
“That’s what I want them to be a part of this year. What do they want everybody to remember them by?”