MUNCY - The game was less than two minutes old when St. John Neumann center Alize Johnson grabbed a loose ball near the intersection of halfcourt and the sideline. In one motion, he picked up the ball and whipped a behind the back pass, cross-court toward a streaking Richard Allen, who converted a layup.
It was a play that elicited a loud ovation and that brought fans to their feet. It was just the first of many too. Neumann's fans basically were on their feet all night because Johnson could not be stopped.
Johnson delivered one of the best performances in Lycoming County history Friday against fellow HAC-III title contender Muncy, scoring 47 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and making five steals while leading Neumann to a hard-fought 79-70 win. Johnson's 47 points were the most by a County player in 12 years and his effort helped Neumann (12-0, 7-0) stau a game ahead of South Williamsport and two ahead of Muncy (8-4, 5-2) in the league standings.
St. John Neumann Regional Academy's Alize Johnson gets a shot past Muncy's Leone Ghezzi (13)?Friday night at Muncy. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
"He's just not going to lose. He's just focused," Neumann coach Paul Petcavage said. "When it comes down to crunch time and he sees it's slipping away or it's too close for his comfort you can just see it in his face. He digs in and takes over."
It was that way in Tuesday's 42-39 win over South when Johnson scored 29 points and nothing changed Friday night. The all-state center reached double figures in all four quarters, hit 16 of 29 shots from the field, including four 3-pointers, and made 13 of 15 foul shots. No area player had scored as many points in a game as Johnson since Neumann's Brad Litchfield had 57 against CMVT in 2002.
Johnson was at his best too in the fourth quarter after Muncy had cut a one-time 13-point deficit to four. The four-year starter answered whenever Muncy started rallying and scored 13 fourth-quarter points while hitting 10 of 11 shots from the field and the line. Johnson went coast-to-coast after grabbing his 13th rebound and clinched the win when he threw down a thunderous one-hand dunk.
In three games against Neumann's three biggest league threats the last two weeks, Johnson has averaged 33 points.
"In those (tense) times I want to help out. I have flashbacks to my freshman and sophomore years and I try to use that experience and bring that out on the court like I did today," Johnson said. "I just try and calm everyone down. They keep testing us and we're just going to keep working."
Johnson scored 24 of Neumann's 34 second-half points. He has become a matchup nightmare because his all-around game is so strong. A point guard as a freshman, Johnson handles the ball as well as any post player in the state and can also step back and bury 3-pointers, something he did four times in the first half.
Johnson added four assists and his passing provides another weapon as he has a knack of hitting teammates in places where they have high-percentage shot opportunities. Still, it was Johnson's ability to handle the ball and drive that gave Muncy fits in the second half. He consistently was able to break down defenders or beat them in the post, making difficult shots while defenders had hands in his face.
And Johnson did all this while playing all 32 minutes, just a day after recovering from the flu.
"I felt good today and I just wanted to go out there and get the win," Johnson said. "I wasn't tired at all. My adrenaline was going and the team was helping me out."
"He did a good job of attacking when he had the opportunity and picking and choosing his time to shoot," Muncy coach Jason Gresh said. "He's long and he's quick and that's a tough matchup for anybody. He put on a show."
Neumann needed Johnson to do so as Muncy gave the state's fifth-ranked Class A team a serious scare. Muncy trailed by 13 early in the third quarter but pulled within four on four different occasions, the last time 69-65 with 2:53 remaining after Eli Warnick drained a baseline jumper. Johnson, though, answered by splitting two defenders at the top of the key before converting a 3-point play that sparked a game-clinching 7-0 run.
Muncy shredded a solid Neumann defense and became the first team to score more than 53 points against it. Nick Ring was tough inside while Leone Ghezzi was hot outside. Ring scored 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds while Ghezzi scored 25 points and hit five 3-pointers. Ghezzi made four straight 3-pointers at one point.
Ted Clark added 10 points and was a calming influence against Neumann's pressure defense. When Neumann threatened to pull away, Clark was adept at settling Muncy and helping it counter instead of wilting.
"We did a good job attacking and we didn't back down," Gresh said. "They are the fifth-ranked team in the state and we just kept telling the guys we can play with this team and we came out and showed we can play with this team which is a big step forward."
Muncy might have pulled the upset had Neumann not shot so well in the first half. The Knights connected on nine 3-pointers, making 9 of 17. Freshman guard Kevin Anderson hit three of those while finishing with nine points and five assists. Neumann was so effective outside in the first half that it had more points from behind the arc than inside it while building a 45-36 halftime lead.
Alize Johnson 15 13-15 47, Richard Allen 2 1-4 5, Kevin Anderson 3 0-0 9, Ryan Reid 0 0-0 0, Noah Beiter 1 0-0 2, Nasza Short 1 1-1 3, Kamaal Burkholder 1 0-0 3, Luke Iarkowski 0 0-0 0, Isaac Beiter 0 0-0 0, Cody Forsburg 2 0-0 6, Njoku-Ibe Amanze 1 2-2 4. Totals 26 17-22 79.
Nick Ring 12 1-2 25, Ted Clark 2 6-8 10, Leone Ghezzi 8 4-5 25, Anthony Barberio 1 0-1 2, Derek Sellers 2 0-0 4, Dalton Smith 1 0-0 2, Eli Warnick 1 0-0 2. Totals 27 11-16 70.
Neumann22 23 16 18-79
Muncy18 18 19 15-70
3-pointers: Neumann 10 (Johnson 4, Anderson 3, Forsburg 2, Burkholder); Muncy 5 (Ghezzi 5).
Records: Neumann 12-0, 7-0 HAC-II. Muncy 8-4, 5-2.
JV Score: Neumann 69-42.