Alize Johnson came flying across the lane to grab a rebound off a missed free throw in the third quarter, put his head down and dribbled over halfcourt. Three South Williamsport defenders awaited the St. John Neumann senior in the paint, but he wasn't about to pull out and set up an offense. Johnson missed the layup, but quickly collected himself and with two hands tapped back the offensive rebound.
The Herculean effort was part of a big night for Johnson, who wasn't going to allow the Knights' undefeated season to end against rival South Williamsport on Tuesday night. He willed his team to victory with a 29-point performance that allowed the Knights to survive the Mounties, 42-39, and left him in the locker room for several minutes catching his breath before emerging for a postgame interview.
"He amazes me every game and he just said that we're not losing this," Neumann coach Paul Petcavage said. "He just took control. Sometimes I don't want him to, but other times I just have to say, hey, do it. He took everybody on his shoulders."
"Everybody wants to beat us, but one of our main focuses is we don't want to lose," Johnson said. "We had to stick together and pull through it tonight and that is what we did."
The Knights (11-0)?nearly needed more from an exhausted Johnson, but South (7-3) missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that hit off the glass and the rim before returning to the floor as the final buzzer sounded.
South Williamsport trailed 19-15 at the half, but the Mounties could have been in a different position had they converted from the foul line and a couple second-chance points. South missed 6 of 8 free throws in the first 16 minutes, and while it was plus-7 on the glass, the Mounties didn't turn their second chances into points, missing 20 shots from the field.
"We were four of 16 in the paint and two of eight from the foul line in the first half, so we left an awful lot of points off the scoreboard," South Williamsport coach Matt Fisher said. "We're typically a better team than that scoring the ball efficiently-wise in the paint, but a credit to their defense, I guess. We didn't finish in the paint."
Neumann struggled early to put together any offensive consistency, as it adjusted without starting point guard Richard Allen trying to navigate South's full-court press that was designed more to slow down Neumann than to create havoc. The Knights, though, showed how explosive they could be in the late stages of the first quarter by finishing with an 11-0 run to take a 13-3 lead. Kaamal Burkholder banked in a 3-pointer and Johnson followed with his only three of the game during the run that took just 1:48.
South continued to play gritty in the second quarter and chipped six points off its deficit before the half and trailed 19-15 at the half.
Both teams struggled mightily in the third quarter with turnovers and missed shots as the two rivals played with relentless energy but with a lack of execution. Johnson scored all five Neumann points in the third quarter while six Mounties scored.
Johnson didn't receive much more help in the fourth quarter, but Cody Forsburg did deliver a big 3-point shot that gave the Knights a 29-28 lead.
South took a 31-29 lead after a well-designed inbounds play opened up Brock Jones for a layup.
Following taking a two-point lead, though, South's defense couldn't keep the Knights off the foul line. St. John Neumann went to the line 12 times over the final four-plus minutes, making eight. Johnson, who had the lone field goal during the march to the line, was 6 of 9, including making 5 of his last 6.
He finished with 12 fourth-quarter points.
"He's a phenomenal a player," Fisher said. "You look at our book and he has 29 and no one else has five and no one else has more than one field goal. He really put them on his back today and got to the free throw line and finished at the free throw line."
The Knights were just 50 percent at the foul line, including missing their final attempt that allowed South a final opportunity to tie the game.
The miss didn't come back to haunt the Knights as chants of "undefeated" filled the gymnasium at St. John Neumann as Johnson and his teammates congratulated each other at center court.
"This is good for us," Petcavage said. "We had a tough one against Sullivan and now this tough one. I may rather win by 20 points, but these are good character builders for us and down the stretch they are going to pay big dividends."
McCormick 1 0-0 2, Riley Thomas 0 2-6 2, Riley Hengler 3 4-6 10, Eric English 1 1-2 4, Billy Rummings 2 5-6 9, Cody Nelson 0 1-2 1, Tyler Schoenwolf 1 0-0 2, Brock Jones 4 1-2 9. Totals: 12 14-24 39.
St. John Neumann (42)
Alize Johnson 10 8-14 29, Noah Beiter 0 0-0 0, Ryan Reid 0 0-0 0, Cody Forsburg 1 1-2 4, Nasza Short 1 2-4 2, Isaac Beiter 0 2-4 2, Kevin Anderson 0 0-2 0, Kaamal Burkholder 1 0-0 3. Totals: 13 13-26 42
South3 12 10 14 - 39
Neumann13 6 5 18 - 42
3-point goals: South Williamsport 1 (English); St. John Neumann 3 (Johnson, Forsburg, Burkholder).
JV score: South 55-49.
Records: St. John Neumann 11-0, South Williamsport 7-3.