BELTON — No matter how many times the Waco Lions got close to tying the score, T.J. Johnson was there to give the Belton Tigers exactly what they needed.
Johnson scored 28 points and went 5-for-6 from the free throw line over the final minute to help Belton secure a 78-72 victory over the Lions in a District 12-6A clash Tuesday night at Tiger Gym. Belton’s sophomore standout scored 22 second-half points, while going 8-of-15 from the field for the game.
“Last season, I felt a lot of pressure being a freshman. But this year, I’ve really tried to have the mindset that I’ve done this before,” Johnson said. “I try not to get too up or down throughout the game.”
Josh Rardin scored 18 points and Tyson Pine finished with 13 for the Tigers.
Belton (18-7, 2-3) led by 10 going into the fourth quarter. Johnson made a layup to make it 57-49 and drew a charge that negated a basket by Waco’s Nathaniel Brooks that would have cut the Tigers’ lead to six. Waco made it 60-55 with 5:33 left before Johnson dropped in a post shot and converted a layup to up Belton’s advantage to 11 with less than 2 minutes to play.
However, Elijah Pullen scored 12 points in the fourth quarter to keep Waco (12-13, 2-4) in it. Pullen made two free throws to pull the Lions within 68-64 and after Pine responded with two free throws of his own, Pullen made a 3-pointer to make it a one-possession game at 70-67 with 58 seconds left. Johnson went 1-for-2 at the charity stripe and Ashten James made it 72-69 with a layup with 34 ticks remaining.
After Belton went ahead 74-69 with 25 seconds left, Pullen made another 3 with 19 seconds remaining, leaving Belton in front by two, 74-72. Unable to get the ball to Johnson, Rardin collected the inbound pass, drew the foul and knocked down both free throws. Waco turned the ball over with 4 seconds left, Johnson made his 10th and 11th free throws of the game and Belton walked off its home gym as the victor.
“We couldn’t hit a shot in the first half and that put us down,” said Waco head coach Earl Farley, whose team trailed 11-0 to start the game and 30-23 at halftime. “We played catch-up and gave ourselves a shot at the end.”
Brooks led Waco with 19 points and Pullen added 18.
TUESDAY'S 12-6A BOYS BASKETBALL
- Belton 78, Waco 72
- Ellison 78, Killeen 46
- Shoemaker 67, Copperas Cove 61
- Temple 60, Waco Midway 55
- BYE: Harker Heights
12-6A BOYS STANDINGS
Waco Midway (4-1)
Copperas Cove (2-3)
Harker Heights (1-4)