02/20/05 — 'This is awesome': N. Johnston men win Carolina 1-A tourney

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'This is awesome': N. Johnston men win Carolina 1-A tourney

By Neil Fuller
Published in Sports on February 20, 2005 2:02 AM

MOUNT OLIVE - The North Johnston men's basketball team wasn't content with the program's first regular-season championship in 39 seasons. Not at all.

There was still some unfinished business to attend to before beginning the NCHSAA Class 1-A playoffs next week.

Senior guard Jake Lomonaco saved his best for his last Carolina 1-A game, scoring a career-high 33 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field to lead the Panthers over second-seeded Ayden-Grifton 65-54 in the conference tournament final on Friday night at College Hall.

North Johnston (19-6) has a first-round playoff bye and will host the winner between Monday night's matchup of No. 3 seeds from the Coastal Plains and Super Six conferences on Feb. 23.

Lomonaco picked up his fourth foul with 3:50 remaining, but the Panthers responded with a 13-3 run to secure the second league tournament crown in school history -- and first since 1966.

Willie Smith closed out the Chargers (15-9) with a thunderous dunk with 19.6 seconds left on the clock.

"I just didn't want to lose this game," said Lomonaco, who converted 8-of-10 free-throw attempts during the fourth quarter. "This is awesome. I could wish for nothing better than to leave North Johnston in the shape it's now in. Winning two titles in the same season is a great feeling."

Lomonaco was able to penetrate the Ayden-Grifton defense with ease the majority of the game -- leading to back-to-back runners in the lane late in the second quarter to give the Panthers a 27-25 advantage at halftime.

"We still have a number of areas where we can get better, but I'm happy our progress," first-year North Johnston coach Derrick Johnson said. "We have developed some good characteristics. We have more guys stepping up to fill more leadership roles, which is something we needed."

Junior guard Brandon Sanders scored eight of his 13 points in the first half, and Damien Allen added 15 points and a game-high nine rebounds to back up Lomonaco's clutch play.

Ayden-Grifton could provide no answer.

The Chargers took a 48-47 lead 21/2 minutes into the fourth quarter on a Leon Maye jump shot, but would be limited to one field goal the rest of the way.

According to Johnson, it was exactly the kind of defense he had been looking for all season.

"We were just looking to work hard on defense and contest shots," Johnson said. "We wanted to limit second shots, which you have to do to be a successful team."

Justin Stepps was the lone Ayden-Grifton player to score in double figures, finishing with 11 points.

The Chargers host the No. 5 seed from the Tar Roanoke 1-A on Monday night to open the playoffs.

Ayden-Grifton coach Bob Murphrey was not available for comment.

Notes: Ayden-Grifton defeated North Johnston 53-45 on Feb. 8, costing the Panthers a chance to clinch the regular-season title early. ... Ayden-Grifton standout Jecol Edwards scored nine points despite twisting an ankle before the game. ... Sanders pulled down six rebounds. ... Ayden-Grifton committed 15 turnovers.