St. Joe's Johnson helps push Irish past Ashland
ASHLAND -- With both teams struggling offensively from the floor and the game hanging in the balance, Huntington St. Joe's Mychal Johnson showed why she is considered one of the top girls basketball players in the nation and a frontrunner for the West Virginia Player of the Year award.
Johnson scored 12 of her game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter Monday while adding 14 rebounds and five assists to lead the Irish past Ashland, 60-41, in Anderson Gymnasium.
"That's usually how it goes for us," Johnson said. "Today, we didn't get comfortable when we got up. We kept playing. We really wanted to win this game."
The game featured several young talents on the court and attracted the attention of several college coaches, including Marshall University head coach Matt Daniel and his staff, along with assistants from West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Middle Tennessee State and Morehead State.
It was billed to be a battle between a pair of top national prospects -- Johnson for the Irish and Ashland's Alexis Robinson, who is also considered one of the country's top prospects for the Class of 2015.
Johnson got the upper hand with her play down the stretch.
Late in the third quarter, the Irish led 38-35 when Johnson drove and found Griffin Dempsey for a 3-pointer to double the lead.
The shot and a subsequent missed opportunity dejected the Kittens as play entered the fourth period, and the Irish turned up the pressure, rattling off 13 straight points to end a 16-0 run that put the game out of reach.
Johnson had the first five points of the fourth quarter before Dempsey and Rachel Lee followed with 3-pointers.
"Both teams were just playing hard and getting after it and it got sloppy at times," Huntington St. Joe coach Shannon Lewis said. "With our experience and the games we've been in, our kids ended up making shots and they weren't able to in the second half."
Last year's contest was an offensive slugfest with Huntington St. Joe earning an 82-75 overtime win in a thriller.
With both teams exerting lots of energy trying to stop the opposition's weapons on the offensive end, the flow of each team's offensive sets struggled as the game settled into a defensive battle with neither team knocking down shots.
Ashland jumped to an 18-13 lead at the end of one quarter by getting into the lane, but Lewis switched his defense and had freshman Mychelle Johnson guard Robinson full-court.
The move worked as Robinson was seldom able to get free and Ashland was unable to knock down other open looks. Ashland coach Bill Bradley said the missed looks took a toll on his team late.
"We had a three to tie it at 38-35 and missed it and they hit a three the other way," Bradley said. "After that, the wheels came off. We started missing free throws, had turnovers. They smelled blood in the water and they took advantage of it. That's a credit to them."
Robinson finished with six points, but did grab 16 rebounds. Haley-Sue Foutch finished with a team-high 15 points for Ashland.
In addition to Johnson's output, Dempsey finished with 12 points -- all on 3-pointers -- and eight assists for St. Joe while Asia Petitte added 10 points and nine rebounds.
The Irish return to the court Wednesday night at home when lone senior Courtney Anderson is honored for Senior Night against Williamstown.
HUNTINGTON ST. JOE 13 15 13 19 -- 60: Mychal Johnson 24, Dempsey 12, Petitte 10, Lee 8, Mychelle Johnson 6.
ASHLAND 18 8 9 6 -- 41: Foutch 15, Robinson 6, Gunter 3, Slone 9, Layne 2, Cullop 6.