CRETE | LJ was suddenly OK, and as a result, so was Bloom Township on Friday night.
After misfiring eight times from the floor against Crete-Monee and being noticeably bothered by his poor shooting, Blazing Trojans senior Lejavius "LJ" Johnson found his rhythm. Following a quick pep talk from coach Jasper Williams while seated on the bench, Johnson returned to action and quickly drilled a long 3-pointer.
That basket pulled Times No. 1 Bloom into a 40-all tie at the third-quarter break, then Johnson struck again on the visitors' initial fourth-period possession. He added a three-point play soon after that, and the Blazing Trojans went on to post a 57-49 Southland Athletic Conference victory that guaranteed them at least a share of their first league championship in four years.
Bloom can win an outright title by beating Kankakee next Friday.
"It was a sign of relief," Johnson said, when asked about his reaction to breaking the personal dry spell. "Once it went down, I knew I was going to hit another one."
"We told him to just relax and let the game come to him," Williams said. "He was frustrated and knew how important the game was to us."
Before Johnson heated up, Bloom (21-3, 8-1) had held the lead just three other times, and only briefly in each instance. Although the Blazing Trojans' defense limited Crete's potent trio of LaQuon Treadwell, Michael Orris and Marvie Keith to single-digit scoring, the Warriors (16-7, 6-3) received a boost from Marius Hopkins (12 points, four 3-pointers) and Jordan Perry (10 points).
Crete was ahead by as many as seven points in the opening half, but by never more than five after halftime. Bloom wiped out that 36-31 deficit on two Donald Moore free throws and Zerell Jackson's 3-pointer.
"We knew it was going to come, but we had to withstand their runs," said Moore, who paced the Blazing Trojans with 11 points. "A lot of (our) shots weren't falling, but we kept playing defense. Coach said speed kills and we needed to use it to our advantage."
"Defense is our forte," Williams said. "I think we've got everything pretty much under control right now."
The Warriors, meanwhile, will get two more regular-season chances to right themselves before the state tournament begins.
"Momentum could have been built here, but we've got to go right back to work," Orris said.