CONYERS -- Michael Johnson might not often be the first option offensively for the Salem basketball team. But on Friday Salem certainly acted like he was. Johnson scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half and Salem held off a late rally to knock off Heritage 70-63 in Region 8-AAAAA play in Conyers.
The Seminoles avoided a season sweep at the hands of their crosstown rivals and improved to 9-5 against league foes. Heritage's tailspin continued as the Patriots dropped their ninth consecutive game and fell to 3-10 in region play.
Salem's eight-point lead after three quarters stretched to 12 after Jamaal Garror had a steal and fed Ahmad Mitchell for a layup to make it a 58-46 game with 6:23 to play.
The emergence of Steven Everson helped bring Heritage back. The guard didn't play much at all before being inserted into the lineup after the Mitchell layup. Everson hit a bucket in the lane, then a 3-pointer from the top of the key, which brought the Patriots to within 60-55 at the 4:22 mark. In between, Johnson had a field goal and converted a putback to briefly keep Heritage at a distance.
With 1:37 left, Andre Harris had a nice baseline drive for a bucket and the diminutive guard completed the three-point play to make it a one-possession game at 64-61. Everson was at it again 10 seconds later as his steal and 2-for-2 trip to the line got the Patriots within 64-63 with a minute and a half to play.
Those were the last points the Patriots would score.
Johnson converted 2 of 4 free throws and his last field goal of the night, and Mitchell added two free throws of his own to help the Seminoles survive.
Salem trailed by four at halftime, but controlled the pivotal third quarter.
Dedrick Turner, who led all scorers with 21 points, had six during the period, while Salem took advantage of two Heritage technical fouls to hit 5 of 5 free throws and build a 50-42 lead heading to the final quarter.
Turner was held scoreless through the game's first seven minutes but came alive over the final nine minutes of the opening half. Turner, an uncommitted senior, nailed a 3-pointer and hit 2 of 3 free throws toward the end of the first, then assisted on a pair of buckets at the start of the second to keep Salem close.
A lot of Heritage's first half success came off the play of Kristopher Bridgeman. The point guard came off the bench and had two tough layups in traffic in the first quarter, then got to the basket twice more in the second (hitting 3-of-4 free throws) before finding Harris for a field goal that capped a 7-0 spurt and put Heritage up 32-25.
It was 33-32 after two free throws from Turner, but Heritage went into the break up by four after a 3-pointer from Rashad Jones with thirty seconds left.
Eric McIver led Heritage with 13 points and Terrell Rainey added 12 points before leaving late with an injury.
Neither team played particularly well in the girls opener, but Salem got enough from Jennifer Tindi (11 points, 13 rebounds) and Ayanna Mitchell (12 points, eight rebounds) to escape with a 39-32 victory.
The win propelled the Seminoles to a season-split with their crosstown rival. Heritage won 41-39 in December.
Salem led by as many as 10 points, at 32-22 on two free throws by Nikkira Brown a little more than a minute into the fourth.
Over the next six minutes, Heritage chipped away at the deficit, getting to within four points on a free throw by Aujana Dawkins with 50 seconds to play. Meanwhile, Salem, leading 36-32, helped keep its rival in the game, making just 4 of 9 free throws over the final 1:42.
The host Seminoles built a 21-12 cushion early in the third, but couldn't pull away. Heritage scored the next eight points -- four coming from Breanna Saunders -- to get within a point at 21-20. Salem finished the quarter on a 7-2 run with Tindi getting a putback and, off another offensive rebound, hitting 1 of 2 free throws to send Salem to the final quarter up 28-22.
It was a sluggish first half as the teams combined for nearly as many turnovers (26) as points, with Salem going into the locker room up 20-12 on Brianna Bush's 3-pointer with five seconds left.
Heritage had a pair of offensive rebounds on a possession midway through the second, the last leading to a putback by Akila Murray to get the Patriots to within 13-12 at the 3:39 mark.
But Salem scored the final seven points of the half as Ayanna Mitchell had four of the points and assisted on Brianna Bush's late 3-pointer.
There were three ties in the opening quarter and Heritage pulled even at 9-9 with 14 seconds to go on a bucket by Aujana Dawkins.
Saunders and Dawkins each had eight points to lead Heritage.