As the last seconds ticked down on the clock Friday night, Sam McKinney of Johnson’s team took two steps down the baseline and threw a powerful dunk that drove the Jaguars fans into a frenzy.
It was an exclamation mark in a resounding performance by Johnson, who beat Westlake 70-42 at Johnson High School and snapped the Chaps’ 85-game winning streak in district games, a result that would reverberate across the state.
To put it simply: if you didn’t know about Johnson, now you do.
“Our guys feel like they belong in the biggest scene in the area and they came out and wanted to prove it tonight,” said Johnson’s coach Ben Kinnison, whose team now single-handedly holds first place in the 26-6A district with a 6-0 record. record. “We were very good at throwing the ball and they weren’t as good as usual, but our kids really struggled.
“Westlake is an incredible team (Chaps coach Robert Lucero) and his guys do the best job I have ever seen. We played really, really well today and it took everything from us.”
In a battle between two of the top four teams in American-Statesman’s Class 6A regional poll, the dominant way Johnson won the game was more surprising than the fact that he caused upset. The Jaguars (20-2) controlled the fight almost from the start, building a 35-15 lead in the first half and never once allowing the 6th-place Chaps in the state to get close to 15 points the rest of the way. .
“Getting off to a good start on defense and not letting them run their own affairs was a big challenge,” Kinnison said. “Our guys did a great job defensively and offensively we were patient.”
Westlake (22-3, 6-1), who relies heavily on 3-pointers, has struggled to shoot all night. In the first half, the Chaps landed no shots from behind the arc and less than 30% of their shots from the field.
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While his team’s attacking struggle was egregious, Lucero pointed to defense as the biggest difference in the game.
“You don’t want to make any hasty judgments about the emotion of the game as you don’t want to point to anything until you’ve seen the film, but I think we were a step slower from the start with everything on the defensive.” Lucero. said. “People will say, ‘Oh, you just missed’, but if we want to beat a good team, we can’t dig ourselves a giant hole. And a lot of it started with our defense.
“You have to give Johnson credit – they’re a good team with good pitches and a lot of talent.”
Johnson led 9–7 and Jackson Vandegarde hit consecutive 3-pointers to start the Jaguars 26–8 for the rest of the half. Five different Johnson players scored in the second quarter, and Westlake passed out after only two shots and nearly five minutes without scoring.
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Donovan Lee hit three straight 3-pointers late in the third quarter and early in the fourth to tie Westlake 49–34, but the Jaguars duly handled the Chaps’ pressure and traps from that point on as Jordan Harding scored all the goals . 10 points down the line.
McKinney’s 18 points led all scorers, while Quinton Hairston scored 13 and Vandegarde finished with 12, putting Johnson’s four players in double figures.
“We just wanted to send a message,” Vandegarde said. “No one hears about us and we want everyone to know that we are here to win.”
In their first year in the 6A class and only their third year in varsity athletics, the Jaguars certainly burst onto the scene in style.
“This year, in front of class 6A, a lot of people were saying things,” McKinney said. “But it’s best to just keep your head down and do what you know you can do and prove everyone wrong – and that’s what we did.”
It has been almost six years since Westlake’s last county loss on January 18, 2017 to Leander by a score of 74–57. Lucero said that now that one of the most impressive series in Central Texas has ended, he appreciates what the program has done over the past seven seasons, but his main focus is on this episode of Chaps.
“As for us, we try not to get hung up on the numbers, because this team and the next game are the most important,” he said. “Some of those teams that were there before have had some trouble with county losses that help you grow, and this team — I don’t think we’ve really had much trouble as a group.
“What this team has done so far is a huge honor for this group, but now they are learning that it is hard to win. Our district is difficult, with good coaches and good players. I don’t have leeway not to do it right all the time.”
Johnson, meanwhile, won’t have much time to enjoy his big win as Lake Travis, who is 5-1 in county play and has won eight of his last nine games, comes Tuesday for another big county 26-6A contest.
“Now we have to do it again,” Kinnison said with a slight laugh, acknowledging the cruelty of the schedule. “I’ll try to enjoy it tonight and think about Lake Travis in the morning.”