HOLT – Steve Finamore thought his star sophomore could give his East Lansing boys basketball team a little more on the court Friday.
So the Trojan coach issued a challenge to Brandon Johns at the intermission of a key CAAC Blue contest.
Johns responded and helped Class A No. 10-ranked East Lansing remain unbeaten.
Johns had 21 points, including eight in the fourth quarter, to help the Trojans rally to a 56-53 victory over Holt.
“I’m really glad (coach) did that because it kind of made me realize where I was at and what I was doing,” Johns said of being challenged by Finamore. “It really turned out for the better in the second half.”
With University of Michigan basketball coach John Beilein in attendance, Johns scored all eight of those fourth quarter points in the final 4:35 as the Trojans (8-0, 5-0 CAAC Blue) overcame what was an eight-point deficit in the final stanza.
“When we were down I felt like I wasn’t doing enough,” Johns said. “I knew I had to pick it up and lead my team to a win.”
Caleb Hoekstra and Westin Myles each added 12 points for East Lansing.
Holt (5-3, 2-3) was led by senior Quinton Armstrong, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out. Jaron Faulds added 11 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks for the Rams, who dropped their third straight.
“I felt like we did better at being aggressive, but towards the end we had key turnovers,” Armstrong said. “And free throws were a big part of the game. We’ve got to make our free throws. That’s really it. We knock down our free throws and (limit) turnovers and we win.”
Holt led by as much as 12 in the second half, but its struggles at the free-throw line played a factor in the latest loss. The Rams were just 4 of 14 from the charity stripe.
“I thought we played well, I thought we played pretty inspired and we out-rebounded them,” Holt coach Matt Essell said. “It was just again we didn’t make free throws. We’ve had two games we’ve lost where if we make an average amount of free throws we win. That’s a tough one because that’s a mental thing that we’re having a hard time fixing right now.”
Holt let 48-40 after a basket by Armstrong in the middle stages of the fourth. But East Lansing responded with 14 unanswered points, which included the go-ahead basket by Johns with 3:23 remaining. The Trojans held on from there to remain the only CAAC Blue team without a conference loss.
“I think it shows the resolve that this team has,” Finamore said of the comeback win. “And the perseverance. We’ve been through these wars before. We lost a lot of close games last year and Everett beat us three times. We learned how to play. When we fall behind, we don’t panic.”
Contact Brian Calloway at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @brian_calloway.