Donovan Johnson scores 28, leads Moon past Mars in PIAA semifinals

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Monday, March 18, 2019 | 9:30 PM


Donovan Johnson and his Moon teammates left in tears after losing to Mars in the WPIAL championship three weekends ago.

This time, there was nothing but smiles and some Hershey’s kisses.

The 6-foot-6 junior scored 28 points with five 3-pointers Monday night to defeat Mars, 73-55, in a PIAA Class 5A semifinal at New Castle. The performance was among Johnson’s best this season, said his coach, and it came at a very good time.

The victory takes Moon (27-2) to the state finals for only the second time in school history.

Connor Ryan added 17 points and Jioni Smith had 15.

“It was just grit and resilience,” Johnson said. “We knew it wasn’t over after that WPIAL loss. Life is going to put you down. You’ve just got to get back up.”

Seventeen days after a crushing loss, they were up and dancing.

“They’re a really fun group,” Moon coach Adam Kaufman said. “You saw them firing Hershey’s kisses off my head. They’re fun to be around. You want that to last as long as it possibly can.”

Moon will face District 12 champion Archbishop Wood (20-8) at 8 p.m., Friday at Giant Center in Hershey. Archbishop Wood of the Philadelphia Catholic League used overtime to defeat District 2 champion Abington Heights, 63-53, in the other semifinal.

The Tigers last reached the state championship in 2004 when they defeated Holy Ghost Prep in the Class 3A finals.

“It’s awesome,” said Johnson, who transferred home from Our Lady of the Sacred Heart last summer. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Michael Carmody led Mars (27-2) with 19 points and Andrew Recchia had 14

For the second time this month, Moon built a double-digit halftime lead over Mars. In the WPIAL finals, Mars rallied back from 16 points down to win 58-56.

This time, Moon steadily increased its lead.

“We talked a couple of days ago about this: It’s been a trend with our team coming out in the third quarter and struggling a little bit,” Kaufman said. “So we wanted to be short and sweet and to the point. We told them no more excuses. This is your moment. Either you’re going to do it or you’re not.”

The Tigers led 35-24 at half and 55-39 after three, thanks in part to Johnson, who went 10 for 12 from the field and didn’t miss a shot after the first quarter. His best quarter was the second, where he went 6 for 6 shooting and scored 15 of his 28 points.

Johnson had only 13 points in the WPIAL finals.

“He’s really a matchup nightmare,” Kaufman said. “He can get you out on the perimeter, he can get you in the post, he can get you off the dribble. You saw a lot of that (versatility) today. He scored every way you could possible score.”

Moon used a smaller lineup than in the WPIAL finals, forcing Mars senior Michael Carmody to defend Johnson much of the night. Johnson scored three points in the first quarter, 15 in the second, five in the third and five in the fourth.

“He’s obviously No. 1 on everybody’s scouting report,” Mars coach Rob Carmody said. “You try to make him one-dimensional. Either he’s got to make shots from the outside or he’s got to go inside. You can’t let him do both.

“Tonight, tip your cap to him. He found space. He made some 3s that were 27 or 28 feet away. He had some great little floaters. He did a little bit of everything. When you have a guy that talented going that well, he did what you’d expect a big-time player to do in a game like this.”

Johnson reached the state finals last season with OLSH, but sat out the championship game with a knee injury.

“Last year was rough watching everyone play,” Johnson said. “I’m just glad that we’re back.”

The only tears Monday were shed in the Mars locker room. The loss was the Planets’ first since Dec. 20 in Las Vegas.

“They’ve taken our school, our community, our program on this fantastic ride of 22 straight games where nobody beat us,” Rob Carmody said. “We found a way in every game up until this point whether it was a second-half comeback, a last-second shot, a defensive stop somewhere — we had so many different ways that we won games this year.

“Tonight, give all the credit in the world to Moon,” he added. “They played fantastic.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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