Photo: Jalen Davis, Wesview

Meechie Johnson game-winner lifts Garfield Heights to victory

“In the clutch moments, this squad is as cool as ice.”

The Garfield Heights versus Benedictine game had a lot of hype in the lead-up. In last year’s battle, Meechie Johnson scored 50 points as a freshman to lead the Bulldogs to an 89-83 win.

The circumstances were a little different this time around. During last year’s meeting, it was only Meechie’s third contest of his high school career. Since then, the legend of Meechie Johnson in Northeast Ohio has grown. He’s no longer the unknown freshman.

And with that, the Benedictine Bengals waited for over a year for their shot at revenge.

Garfield Heights took an early lead as Johnson soared to the bucket for an acrobatic layup before being struck in the face. Johnson subbed out the game, but he returned a few possessions later with his team holding a 5-0 lead.

Benedictine junior Eric Buckner Jr. forced a steal in the backcourt and finished a runner off the glass as the first quarter horn sounded. Benedictine held a 14-12 advantage at the end of one.

Johnson dealt with aggressive defenders all night. In the second quarter, Benedictine gained the momentum with a halftime buzzer-beater to give the Bengals a 26-22 lead at halftime.

Benedictine also held tightly to the lead in the third quarter. The Bengals secured a 46-42 advantage at the end of three.

Garfield Heights found itself trailing in the fourth quarter on several occasions this year, so this was not foreign territory for the Bulldogs. During the month of January, Garfield Heights had two games with similar endings. On both occasions, the Bulldogs went on late scoring surges to come from behind and win.

Well… for the third time in less than a month, Garfield Heights found itslef playing from behind in a one possession game with just a couple minutes left. Led by sophomore Meechie Johnson and freshman Sonny Johnson Jr., Garfield Heights is a relatively inexperienced group. However in the clutch moments, this squad is cool as ice.

In past victories, Meechie used his quick hands and aggressive on-ball defense to create turnovers when the Bulldogs were trailing. In similar fashion on Thursday, Meechie forced a steal with his team down by a basket. He then drove the length of the floor and scored a layup to tie the game at 53.

After Garfield Heights took the lead with less than a minute to play, it was time for Benedictine to answer. Benedictine junior Jashun Cobb tied the game at 57 with just over 30 seconds left.

On the ensuing possession, Benedictine almost forced a steal after the ball nearly deflected off the leg of Johnson. However, Garfield Heights retained possession with one last chance to steal the victory from Benedictine.

Garfield Heights inbounded the ball to Sonny Johnson Jr. and the young freshman darted to the rim. The defense collapsed and Sonny sent a perfect bounce pass to a cutting Meechie who knocked down the game-winning basket.

That makes three game-winning baskets for Meechie Johnson in the last three weeks.

“He lives for the moment,” said Meechie Johnson Sr. (Meechie’s father who doubles as an assistant at Garfield Heights).

Stats & Final Thoughts:

Meechie Johnson paced the Bulldogs with 24 points and 5 assists. Benedictine was led by Davin Zeigler with 20.

The postseason is right around the corner for a Garfield Heights squad that never quits and plays their best basketball in the most meaningful moments. The Bulldogs will be a difficult out in the playoffs.

Darnell Jones is a contributor for Mars Reel based in Northeast Ohio

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