By Zach Shugan
MILTON, Ga. — When the Johns Creek boys basketball team has had its full group of players together this season, the results have been halfway decent for a team with many first-time varsity players. The Gladiators went 2-6 during an eight-game stretch where they were without several key players due to quarantine. Excluding those games, the Gladiators have won half of their games this season.
“That’s what happens,” Johns Creek head coach Keenan Temple said. “It’s just trying to get your rhythm with guys getting back. I’m happy with them. I think we’re starting to play really well at the right time.”
Johns Creek (8-12, 5-7) picked up a region win on the road Friday night, taking down Cambridge (6-14, 1-11) for the second time this season. The Gladiators’ rising talent was on display, as McRae Ball scored a game-high 29 points and dynamic big-men Mohammed Mbye and Aidan Temple both finished with double-doubles.
Johns Creek lost nine seniors to graduation from last year’s team, which finished 17-11 overall and made it to the state playoffs. Temple and Mbye are the only returning varsity players, although the sophomore Temple played sparingly as a freshman and the senior Mbye missed most of his junior season due to injury. Ball, a junior, transferred to Johns Creek from Telfair County during the offseason.
“These guys all combined have very little varsity experience,” Temple said. “As they play more, they’re getting better and better. Any night, we have three different guys that can go get 26 or 30 [points]. Between Mohammed [Mbye], McRae [Ball] and Aidan [Temple], all three of those guys have scored 26, 27 this year.”
Johns Creek led the Feb. 5 game against Cambridge from wire to wire. The Gladiators opened the game on a 9-0 run and finished the first quarter with a 15-8 lead over the Bears. They held that lead into halftime, 31-24, led by Ball’s 15 points.
Cambridge had a small run in the third quarter, as senior Tommy Swift hit three 3-pointers in the period. However, Johns Creek still led by eight points, 52-44, heading into the fourth quarter.
The Bears put more pressure on the Gladiators in the fourth quarter, at one point cutting the deficit to just three points with three minutes remaining. Johns Creek fended the Bears off in the final minutes and held on for the win.
“The guys did what they had to do,” Temple said. “Pressure came, and we were able to pull it back out. I’m proud of that.”
Johns Creek, currently sixth in the Region 7-6A standings, wraps up its regular season next week against first-place Chattahoochee and fourth-place Sequoyah. Then, the Gladiators will put aside their standing from the regular season and put everything on the line in the region tournament, as they hope to earn a spot in the 6A state playoffs.
Some regions in the state, including Reg. 5-7A which features Alpharetta, Milton and Roswell, decided not to play region tournaments this year. Reg. 7-6A will play its region tournaments, giving teams outside the top four of the region standings a chance to make the state playoffs.
“We have a very slim chance of finishing fourth,” Temple said. “So we need the region tournament. Plus, I need these guys to get the experience of playing in it for next year.”
Johns Creek Gladiators
McRae Ball (Jr.) – 29 pts, 4 reb, 1 asst, 1 blk
Mohammed Mbye (Sr.) – 21 pts, 10 reb, 6 asst, 2 blk
Aidan Temple (So.) – 10 pts, 10 reb, 2 asst, 3 blk
Caleb Riley (Jr.) – 9 pts, 4 reb, 2 asst
Kolin Brandeis (Jr.) – 2 pts, 2 reb, 3 asst
Ethan Wainer (So.) – 2 reb, 2 asst
Giovanni Ekoue-Bla (Jr.) – 2 pts, 1 reb, 1 asst
Tommy Swift (Sr.) – 19 pts, 4 reb
Davis Sager (Sr.) – 16 pts, 5 reb, 1 asst
Zane Moore (Jr.) – 11 pts, 1 reb
Gavin Gardella (Jr.) – 8 pts, 1 reb, 8 asst
Daniel Mack (So.) – 5 pts, 1 reb
Marcus Venzie (Jr.) – 4 pts, 3 reb, 3 asst
Nate Isler (So.) – 1 pts, 1 reb
Grant Rosenbaum (Sr.) – 7 reb, 1 blk
Jack Faulkenburg (Jr.) – 2 reb
Austin Irwin (Jr.) – 2 reb
Will Paulus (Sr.) – 1 reb