DANVILLE —Central Illinois was hit hard with a snowstorm this past weekend, and the possibility for more bad weather is in the forecast for later this week. While there was no snow inside Paul C. Shebby Gymnasium at Schlarman Academy on Tuesday, it was raining.
It was raining threes in the first quarter as four of Schlarman Academy’s first five baskets against Armstrong-Potomac were drained from long range.
Trojans senior center Shawn Johnson, however, created a mini storm of his own and set the tone en route to Armstrong-Potomac’s 49-41 win over the still winless Hilltoppers. The win was the Trojans’ second of the season.
“It feels great,” Johnson said of the win and his personal performance. “It’s awesome. I don’t know how to explain it, but I got a little tingling sensation in my stomach. It’s just awesome.”
Part of the feeling might have been from him single-handedly keeping his team in a game that had the potential of getting out of hand early.
Schlarman Academy’s Gannon Hughes (11 points) hit a three from the left corner nine seconds into the game. It was immediately followed by one from Gavin Stines (eight points, nine rebounds, four assists), and then eight consecutive points from sophomore guard Michael Simmons. Simmons (10 points, four rebounds, three steals) hit back-to-back three-pointers, and the Hilltoppers led 14-10 two minutes into the contest.
But while Schlarman Academy (0-7 overall, 0-2 in the Vermilion Valley Conference) was hitting from all angles, it couldn’t find an answer for Johnson who was a perfect six-for-six in the first quarter.
By the end of the first period, the score was: Schlarman Academy 18, Shawn Johnson 12.
“He definitely set the tone, especially when they came out hitting threes like they did,” Armstrong-Potomac coach Sean O’Brien said. “That zone defense that we’ve been playing has kept us in a lot of games. As everyone knows, if you’re playing a zone and they come out hot — which they did, and they were no-doubters. They came out firing. It was very vital at the first of this game to have him match some of that and keep us in it.”
The Hilltoppers, however, began to slowly find ways to take Johnson’s offense out of the game, much to the credit of Schlarman Academy senior Chris Kuchefski who finished the game with eight blocks. One of his blocks came on Johnson’s first shot attempt of the second quarter.
“I thought I had a beat on him a couple times, but he’s awesome,” Johnson said. “He’s a great player with great length. He’s well-disciplined. I like his game a lot.”
Johnson, who finished the game with 22 points and nine rebounds, made only three more shots (and four free throws) the rest of the game.
Armstrong-Potomac guard Austin Rademacher and Corey Buhr picked up the slack, finishing with 13 and nine points respectively. Rademacher also finished with a game-high 10 rebounds and had two steals.
Schlarman Academy led 35-33 at the end of the third quarter, and never trailed by more than four in the first three quarters. Armstrong-Potomac (2-7, 1-1) took its final lead at 36-35 with seven minutes, two seconds to play on a free throw by Rademacher. Johnson had just tied the game moments earlier on a basket following a turnover.
The Hilltoppers were forced into a total of 15 turnovers in the game with six coming on steals, while the Trojans committed only nine. Five of Armstrong-Potomac’s turnovers came in the first period.
Schlarman Academy has now lost its first seven games of the season. Though there could be plenty of frustration building in the Hilltoppers’ locker room, they are remaining optimistic.
“The message, really, was just going back to the basics,” first-year Schlarman Academy coach Jason Henton said. “Cleaning up these small issues. We’re right where we want to be, we’ve just got to clean up these small issues to get over that hump.
“They are excited about the game,” he added. “It’s just these little, small mental lapses that are holding us back now. Once we get those fixed and corrected, we’re going to be a hard team to beat.”
The Hilltoppers will next play in the Hayden’s Classic which is scheduled to begin December 27. The Trojans are next scheduled to take on Chrisman tonight as part of the St. Joseph-Ogden Leader Classic. They will then face Salt Fork on January 7.
For now, they will soak up the satisfaction of earning their second win of the season. Their fight in getting the win Tuesday despite Schlarman Academy’s intensity is what has the Trojans’ hopeful for a successful season.
“Us seniors, we kind of devoted ourselves to emphasize to the team to not put our heads down,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be more of a team, and we’re going to fight through anything. Even if we’re down by 20 with a minute left, we’re still going to go hard and we’re not going to give up. We’re going to fight through and stay strong.”