Foul trouble prevented Mikaela Johnson from having an impact in the first half of North Surry’s battle with East Rutherford, but the junior was a force after the intermission.
Despite playing with three fouls throughout the final two quarters, Johnson scored 20 of her team’s 35 points in the second half and carried the No. 7 Lady Hounds (20-8) to a 52-44 win over No. 23 East Rutherford (18-9) in the second round of the NCHSAA 2-A playoffs.
“Those are things that Mikaela is capable of,” North Surry coach Shane Slate said. “As long as she’s not in a situation where she’s making bad choices, she’s a difficult matchup.
“(The) last two games, we’ve played teams that haven’t seen her, so it gives her a little bit of an advantage.”
Johnson finished with a double-double at 24 points and 10 rebounds. She shot 11-18 from the field to help carry North Surry into the third round.
The offense didn’t come easy for North Surry though, and both teams got off to a cold start and combined for just seven points in the opening five minutes. North Surry led 8-5 after the first quarter.
East Rutherford, a team that loves to shoot from long-distance, started to find some offensive rhythm in the second period. The Lady Cavaliers knocked down two three-pointers and forced Johnson to pick up her third foul with 2:53 remaining in the quarter.
While Johnson watched from the sidelines, North Surry was able to stay within striking distance thanks to its defense and depth. No Lady Hound had more than four points, but six different girls found the score sheet as North Surry trailed 18-17 at halftime.
“I think in a playoff game, when you’re not used to playing each other, it takes time to feel each other out,” Slate said. “Fortunately the lid opened up a little sooner tonight for us than it did on Tuesday.”
Johnson was able to power the Lady Hounds to victory in the second half. She scored her team’s first nine points to help North Surry earn a 26-24 lead. East Rutherford continued to battle, and the Lady Cavs trailed 34-33 entering the final quarter.
However, Johnson’s aggression paid off down the stretch, because she was able to force Rutherford into some serious foul trouble. Three of the Cavaliers’ spent a significant amount of time on the bench with four fouls, and point guard Paris Baker fouled out midway through the fourth period.
North Surry capitalized on Rutherford’s lack of depth in the final period. With the score tied at 38, Johnson knocked down a free throw before finishing with her signature left-handed layup under the basket for a 41-38 lead. The Cavs answered on the other end with a free throw, but a jumper from Maggie Hawks gave North Surry a 43-39 lead it would not relinquish.
East Rutherford, desperate to crawl back, played a little wild in the closing moments and committed four turnovers in the final three minutes, ruining its chances for a comeback. North Surry forced the Cavaliers into 22 turnovers overall and held Rutherford to 26 percent shooting from three-point range.
“We were lucky to have a pretty good scout coming into this game,” Slate said. “We knew they liked to shoot the three, but they were bigger than us as well. We did a good job closing out and crashing the glass, for the most part.”
Maggie Hawks followed Johnson with seven points, and four different Lady Hounds finished the evening with four.
The Lady Hounds will try to extend their season on Saturday against Smoky Mountain. The No. 2 Lady Mustangs come into the contest with a 25-3 record after a 52-49 win over Bandys on Thursday.
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16