Johnson’s 20 off bench helps Lady Braves down Southern

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 1, 2003

LORMAN &045; It was an arduous process just to get her here, but Shirley Walker knew from the first moment she laid eyes on LaToya Johnson that she wanted Johnson to wear the purple and gold.

In Saturday’s 79-70 Southwestern Athletic Conference victory over Southern, the Lady Braves’ sophomore Johnson showed what attracted her head coach Walker to her when she was just a freshman at North Pike High School.

Johnson hit on 8-of-10 shots from the field and missed just one of her five free throws, as she scored a career high 20 points.

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&uot;My point guard (LaTriska Jones) let me know that they (Southern) were overplaying me and I had to take advantage of that,&uot; said Johnson, who grabbed a pair of rebounds and dished out two assists. &uot;If I shoot well during warm-ups then I know I’m going to be fine in the game. Tonight in practice felt great.&uot;

Apparently, Johnson’s pre-game superstition rubbed off on her teammates, as the Lady Braves (12-7, 6-3 SWAC) shot a searing 62.8 percent from the field.

The Lady Braves never trailed in the second half, after Candace Roberts opened the final 20 minutes with a kiss off the window to break a tied halftime score, 38-36.

After Southern’s Tommie Walden layup cut the margin to one, 41-40, the Lady Braves went on a 7-0 run, capped by a beautiful runner by Johnson where she was fouled.

Johnson’s leaner and three-point conversion put the Lady Braves up eight, 48-40, with 15:24 remaining.

&uot;She (Johnson) did some great things for us tonight and kept the momentum going when we weren’t playing out best,&uot; Walker said. &uot;She started at the beginning of the year for us, but missed six games because of an injury. She did a great job tonight. I hope she keeps that attitude and continues to get better.&uot;

Alcorn’s lead went to 10, 55-45, on a Roberts’ putback before the Lady Jaguars used a 6-0 run highlighted by a Tiffany Womack jumper to put the Lady Braves back on their heels.

Southern (9-5, 6-3 SWAC) had an opportunity get within a basket, but a Danielle Tipton steal and subsequent made free throws from Roberts reversed the impetus back to the Lady Braves.

&uot;We only have our selves to blame for this loss,&uot; said third-year Southern head coach Sandy Pugh. &uot;We didn’t play tough and we didn’t play like a champion. I really thought it was our worst outing of the year. We didn’t execute in our half-court offense and they (Alcorn) outplayed us on both ends of the court.&uot;

After being swept by the Lady Jags &045; last year’s regular season and SWAC tournament champion &045; a year ago, Alcorn continued a glaring statistic for Southern: The Lady Jags are now 0-5 when either tied or trailing at halftime.

Despite registering four players in double figures, led by Angela Bullock’s 16 points, Southern couldn’t shake its woes from beyond the 3-point arc (25 percent).

The Lady Braves built on Roberts’ freebies by pushing their advantage to nine, 69-60, when Johnson hit the front end of a pair of free throws with 3:29 left in the game.

&uot;Anybody can go off for 20 like she (Johnson) did when you’ve got the champs coming into your place,&uot; Pugh said. &uot;She was ready to play and we didn’t do what we normally do.&uot;

Alcorn’s lead was thrice 11 in the second half, including with 19 seconds to go after a pair of Zandra Hall free throws.

The squads spent the first 11 minutes of the first half feeling one another out, as both held a pair of leads before Johnson made her presence known.

The sophomore from Crystal Springs, who finished her high school ball at Hazelhurst, had back-to-back buckets to flip a 3-point deficit into a 1-point Alcorn lead, 17-16 with 9:05 in the first half.

The lead grew to as many as nine, 34-25, when Keairra Levy delivered on two chances from the line with 2:45 left.

before Southern closed the half on an 11-2 surge of its own as the first half came to a close.

Cherise Sims enabled the run with a pair of treys, as she cocked and fired once her hands enveloped the ball.

The Lady Jags erased Alcorn’s lead on easy follow-ups that came as a result of the Lady Braves not blocking out their men for defensive rebounds. Tommie Walden was the recipient of one such gift to knot the game up with 3.1 seconds showing.

&uot;I thought we turned the ball over and were forcing to many passes and not going strong to the bucket,&uot; Walker said. &uot;We know Southern is a very aggressive team and that’s why they outplayed us in the first half.&uot;