Drew Johnson wanted to get in a little extra free-throw shooting, so after Columbus East practiced Thursday, he and his father Kevin stayed so Drew could shoot 50 more free throws at each end of the court.
The extra work paid off. With the Olympians clinging to three-point leads in the final minute, Johnson twice hit a pair of free throws to extend the lead to five, and East held on for a 48-45 sectional semifinal win against crosstown rival Columbus North and a berth in tonight’s sectional final.
“I just cleared my mind and pretended I was there with my dad practicing them, and it just came easy,” Johnson said. “So those were huge moments, but I think all the other guys stepped up and did the same thing.”
That included Max Nolting, who in the same situation, knocked down a pair of free throws with 36 seconds remaining to extend a three-point lead to five. But the Bull Dogs would still have a chance.
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After North’s Trey Vincent hit a pair of free throws with 32 seconds left, the Bull Dogs quickly got the ball back after an Olympians turnover. Bailey Hester couldn’t get a game-tying 3-pointer to go down, and he missed a follow 2-point attempt, and the ball went out of bounds to the Bull Dogs with seven-tenths of a second remaining.
Vincent inbounded the ball and tried to hit Blake Barker in the left corner, but Johnson tipped the ball away as time expired.
“We matched their intensity,” East coach Brent Chitty said. “I thought we played pretty hard, pretty smart. Trey and Jaylen (Flemmons) are a load. They’re so athletic, and then Hester and the rest of them, they’re just a nice team. I thought our effort for four quarters was really pretty decent.”
North (14-11) jumped out to an 11-7 lead on a Hester 3-pointer five minutes into the game. The Olympians (13-10) then went on a 16-2 run to take a 23-13 lead.
East led 25-17 at the half.
“They had a tremendous first half,” North coach Paul Ferguson said. “They had some big buckets early that got them going and loosened them up. We really struggled defensively in the first half. We got zero offense out of our defense, we made some mistakes on our post defense and jumping to the ball, and East capitalized on those mistakes early.”
Hester hit two more 3-pointers in the first three minutes of the third quarter to help bring the Bull Dogs within 26-23. But the Olympians built the lead to as large as 38-27 with 1:07 left in the third quarter and led 38-29 going to the fourth.
North got back to within three points four times in the final minute, but the first three times, East converted at the line, and the last time, the Bull Dogs couldn’t come up with a game-tying 3.
“We scouted their offense, so we knew what they were doing,” East’s Drew Hasson said. “It was all about toughness — blocking out, rebounding, getting on the floor and just hustling.”
Hasson led the Olympians with 14 points and eight rebounds. Thomas Myers added 11 points and seven rebounds, while Johnson finished with nine points and Matt Frost had eight points and six rebounds.
Vincent scored 18 points to lead the Bull Dogs. Flemmons finished with 13 points, and Hester added 12.
“The key for us tonight was to do what we do and stop the 3-point shooters like Hester and Barker, and then stop their driving and penetration, which came from Jaylen and Trey,” Myers said. “That was really big for us.”
Trenton Kelley grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Bull Dogs to a 33-30 advantage on the boards.
But North shot only 28.6 percent (14 of 49) from the field. The Bull Dogs were just 23.5 percent (4 of 17) from 3-point range.
“It was a night where we just struggled offensively,” Ferguson said. “Honestly, I liked a lot of our shots. Unfortunately, the ones that have seemed to be going for us lately just didn’t go tonight.”
North was coming off an 81-69 first-round upset of Shelbyville, a team that had beaten the Bull Dogs by 17 earlier in the season. North was trying to do the same thing against an East team that beat the Bull Dogs 44-37 on Dec. 15.
“I’m disappointed for my guys,” Ferguson said. “They’re disappointed that they didn’t play better. We’re disappointed it ended this way, but there are some seniors that will be missed.”