It went from rim-rocking — Shane Hall's third dunk put Johnson Central ahead 30-29 late in the second quarter — to rim-rattling.
The Golden Eagles, when not adding to a myriad of turnovers, missed 14 of their last 23 shot attempts as a blossoming upset bid faded quickly into a mere pipe dream.
Louisville Ballard, labeled widely as the tournament favorite, went on an absolute tear to triumph over Johnson Central, 75-54, during Thursday's opening-round game of the KHSAA Boys Sweet Sixteen at Rupp Arena.
Ballard caused 25 total turnovers, many of which helped the Bruins reel off 46 of the game's final 70 points. The Bruins had 20 steals.
“That’s the Louisville Ballard I thought we were going to see,” said Johnson Central coach Tommy McKenzie. "”We knew their M.O. was to create pressure and create turnovers.”
Johnson Central coughed it up six times throughout the final 3:03 of the second quarter as that 30-29 lead turned into a 41-31 deficit by halftime.
It was the Shane Show for Johnson Central early as Hall, a junior, accounted for 19 of the Golden Eagles' 31 first-half points. He was 7-of-8 shooting in the first 13 minutes. He finished with 28 points, eight rebounds and a block in 30 minutes.
“I thought we did a real good job of maintaining our spacing, giving him room to work,” McKenzie said of his 6-foot-9 star. “And I thought he did a better job of wanting the ball than he has in a long time.”
Hall struggled to stay involved in last year’s Sweet Sixteen loss to John Hardin. He settled into a comfort zone early this go-round at Rupp.
“I guess last year I was just getting used to the environment,” said Hall, who has scholarship offers from Tennessee, Butler and several others. “This year, I came ready to play, to give it my all.”
Ballard held Hall relatively quiet for the remainder of the game. He had just two points in the third quarter before providing some “wow” moments again in the fourth — once with a two-handed slam and then with a one-handed reverse finish of an alley-oop.
“When you're a pressing and trapping team like we are, we're not designed specifically to take one guy away,” said Ballard coach Chris Renner. “So we’re rotating to spots and to areas. We didn’t do a good job in that first half of, when we rotated, bodying up on him and we let him get a lot of touches in the middle of the defense.”
Ballard junior forward Kelan Martin had the assignment of being more physical with Hall.
“Kelan started to body him up a little bit and denied him the ball,” Renner said.
Martin also supplied Ballard with its best individual shooting effort. Named the Player of the Game, he was 9 of 14 from the floor en route to 22 points. He added eight boards.
Louisville commit Quinten Snider, a junior, netted 16 points. Lavonne Holland tallied 12.
Johnson Central shot 50 percent overall, but attempted a whopping 29 fewer shots than Ballard (30 of 69).
Ballard, the Seventh Region champion, has now rolled off 16 straight double-digit wins. The Bruins (29-4) face the Clay County-Knott County Central winner at 8 p.m. in today's quarterfinal round.
Johnson Central (22-11) took a first-round exit for the second straight season. With no seniors, the Golden Eagles expect to contend in the 15th Region again in 2013-14.
Said McKenzie of the experience: “It’s awesome for us. Last year we were kind of shell-shocked. This year we did a good job of meeting expectations. Nobody wanted Louisville Ballard in the first round but, like I told the kids, if we’re going to play the No. 1 team in the state of Kentucky, we might as well play them in the first round.”
Sophomore Kyle Gullett tallied 11 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Braxton Blair chipped in 10 points. Truman Salyer (7.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG) was limited to three minutes (flu).
AARON SNYDER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2664.