Macon -- London Johnson’s response to the opposition’s big momentum play shows why the Norcross guard is considered one of the top underclassmen in the country. And that effort helped redirect the momentum 180 degrees and led to the Blue Devils winning the Class 7A championship.

Berkmar had just scored on a dramatic fast-break slam, with Brycen Blaine bouncing the ball off the glass so big Malique Ewin could grab it and dunk it. But before the crowd had a chance to stop buzzing, Johnson raced to the other end, drained a 3-pointer and was fouled.

His four-point play at 3:50 in the third quarter negated the momentum and put the No. 5 Blue Devils on the way to their sixth state championship and first since 2013, a 58-45 win over No. 2-ranked Berkmar at the Macon Coliseum.

“That’s just the case of a great player making plays when you know they had all that momentum right there,” Norcross coach Jesse McMillan said. “And he comes back and hits that timely 3. Just the confidence and growth of him this year has been impressive.”

Johnson also had eight rebounds, four steals and two assists and never left the court.

“I felt like we came out and knew our game plan more today,” Johnson said. “We also came out with a chip on our shoulder and that was the difference.”

The game was chip-worthy because Berkmar had taken the three previous meetings – a one-point and two-point win during the regular season and a six-point win in the Region 7 championship game. But in each of those games, one or the other had an important player missing. This was the first game with both sides at full strength.

“We played them three times, but we really didn’t play them three times,” McMillan said. “The game plan tonight was pack it in and make them hit jump shots. We knew they were going to attack the glass.”

Norcross (26-6) also got 14 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks from Jerry Deng and 13 points and five rebounds from Samarion Bond.

Berkmar (26-5) was led by Ewin with 13 points and eight rebounds, Jameel Rideout with 13 points, and Blaine with 12 points, two assists and two steals. But Ewin and Rideout both picked up their fourth personal fouls in the third quarter and Ewin eventually fouled out. The result was Berkmar’s second straight loss in the championship game; the Patriots were beaten by Milton last year.

The other burning question was McMillan’s beard, which ranks somewhere between the Gorton’s fisherman and David Letterman circa-2022. He started growing the beard during the pandemic, and his wife Cathy is eager to see it go. McMillan thought so, too. But winning a championship with a beard almost demands it stays put.

“I think personally it looks good,” he said. “I think it looks good in pictures and we definitely had some mojo somewhere …”