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Despite having made just 2 of his previous 10 free throws, Donovan Johnson calmly sank one with 6.8 seconds remaining Friday to give the Rockets (13-13) a 43-41 victory over St. Xavier (13-12).
Johnson’s free throw followed an off-balance runner in the lane that put the Rockets ahead for the first time since a 34-33 lead nearly six minutes earlier.
After St. X’s last shot bounced high off the rim at the buzzer, the Rockets could finally exhale. Their victory secured a perfect February (6-0), which signaled a big change for a team that went 1-8 in January.
“We picked it up in practice and didn’t get down,” Johnson said of his team’s turnaround. “Offensively, we’re executing better and making better decisions. Defensively, we still need some work.”
Johnson scored 13 of his game-high 15 points in the second half. He was the only Rocket in double figures for the game.
Though they held St. Xavier to just 41 points, 18 points below their average, the Rockets struggled offensively.
“We made some mistakes Friday that we haven’t been making in February,” SCHS Coach Mike Clark said. “We had unforced turnovers, missed free throws and took some ill-advised shots. Those are things we had been avoiding. While we’re certainly elated with the outcome, we have some things we need to work on. But St. X is a very good team that has seen time inside the top 25 this season.”
After scoring just 15 first-half points, and trailing, 21-15, at the break the Rockets perked up in the third and fourth quarters. Shelby took its first lead of the game in the third quarter by outscoring St. X, 15-8.
But after the Tigers got behind, they reeled off a 10-1 run over the end of the third and start of the fourth quarters to regain the lead.
“There were five straight possessions in the third where we could have pushed the lead out to double digits, but we made too many mistakes,” Clark said. “We lost sight of how we were playing in [the previous] February games.”
St. X opened the game with a 9-0 run in the first five minutes.
“We started the game extremely cold, and I think St. X’s physical play gave us some trouble early on,” Clark said. “But once we adjusted after the first few minutes, I thought we did a much better job against them.”