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JOHNS CREEK (GA) – In the first half, Johns Creek and Duluth matched each other point for point. But early in the third quarter, the Gladiators put a stop to that trend and created the separation they needed to start their season successfully.
Fueled by Sam Witt’s offensive outburst in the third period, Johns Creek built a double-digit lead and held on the rest of the way for a 70-64 home win against the Wildcats on December 1.
A 6-1 junior shooting guard, Witt scored 13 of his game-high 26 points in the frame when Johns Creek turned an even score into an advantage as large as 17 points. Witt, who also grabbed 10 rebounds, could not be kept out of the lane during the game-changing 13-2 run. Mostly in transition, he converted three layups and buried a 3-pointer for a 45-34 lead.
Senior Mohammed Mbye was the second-most, impactful player on the floor, finishing with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Other than grabbing so many rebounds, Mbye helped relieve some of the pressure Takata Murphy (17 points) was applying (The freshman converted consecutive layups for three-point plays to cut the margin to single digits with 5:56 left in the game.) by nailing a 3 after a pass from Witt for a 59-47 score.
While the Gladiators (1-0) struggled to take care of the ball and make free throws, Murphy kept Duluth in striking distance by nailing a pair of 3s, resulting in a 67-61 score with 56 seconds remaining. But defensive rebounding continued to plague the Wildcats (1-4) and Witt grabbed two offensive rebounds before putting the game out of reach with a pair of free throws.
Sophomore Aidan Temple collected 15 points and eight boards for Johns Creek, which dominated in rebounds 53-16 (unofficial statistic).
Tristan Johnson had 13 points and fellow senior Makhi Mitchell added 12 for the Wildcats, who finished with 12 steals (unofficial stat).
The Gladiators didn’t take their first lead until the third quarter, and Mbye and Witt both scored buckets in the closing seconds of the opening and second period, respectively.