For the past three seasons, Caroline boys basketball coach Antoine Johnson has been faced with questions about what he should do to tame Mykai Smith.
The Cavaliers’ senior guard is boisterous on the court as he’s vocal with the opposition and game officials.
Smith also may take an ill-advised shot or two while the Cavaliers are nursing a big lead.
But Johnson’s response has been subdued.
He’s refuted any notion that he must temper Smith’s passion on the court, and Friday night was a perfect example why.
Smith stayed in attack mode in a Battlefield District contest at first-place James Monroe.
With JM’s 6-foot-6 forward Girardi Cubillan using his size and length to bother Smith at every turn, he still broke open a close game in the fourth quarter with an onslaught of shot-making as Caroline pulled out a 61–50 victory to draw within a half game of the Yellow Jackets in the district standings.
James Monroe’s regular season is finished, but Caroline and Courtland can earn a share of the district title with wins Monday over Eastern View and Chancellor, respectively.
Smith paced Caroline with a game-high 31 points as he knocked down five of the Cavaliers’ nine 3-pointers. He’s had three straight games with at least 30 points, including a career-high 37 on Tuesday against Chancellor.
“Mykai is just going to go at it,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t care who’s on the court; he feels like he’s the best player and he’s going to go out there and attack, attack, attack. I love that about him. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. People try to tell me to calm him down, get him under control, but that’s Mykai. You’ve got to let him go out there and have fun.”
The Cavaliers (14–5, 8–3 Battlefield) and Yellow Jackets (12–10, 9–3) were in a tussle for three quarters.
James Monroe led 35–30 in the third quarter before Caroline closed the frame on a 10–1 run. The Cavaliers’ burst wound up 23–3 over the end of the third quarter and into the fourth.
Caroline led 40–36 after three quarters, but Smith scored the first six points of the fourth on back-to-back 3s, including one in which he appeared to be stumbling before gathering himself at the top of the key.
The Yellow Jackets got no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
“I told Johnson three stops, three makes, and they’ll fold,” Smith said. “That’s what happened. We put the pressure on them and we knocked down big shots.”
The Yellow Jackets were paced by 24 points from sophomore point guard Ricky Goode–Wright, who hit six 3-pointers but was their only player in double-figures.
James Monroe scored the first seven points of the game before Caroline responded with an 8–0 run.
Goode–Wright scored 15 points in the first half as JM rebuilt a 24–18 lead in the second quarter. But the Cavaliers responded once again and went ahead 29–28 at halftime. Caroline’s final run after JM’s five-point, third-quarter lead proved to be the dagger.
“We weren’t doing anything on both ends to be honest,” JM head coach Carlos Evans said. “Offensively I feel like we’re at our best when we move the ball around. We weren’t getting into anything. We were playing [isolation] ball. I feel like Caroline morphed us into doing what they do.”
Caroline also got 12 points and six assists from junior guard Kaylen Taylor and 10 points from junior forward Koby Metz. Metz, who was scoreless in Caroline’s 70–68 defeat to JM earlier this season, hit a key 3-pointer from the corner in the fourth quarter to give the Cavaliers a 51–38 advantage.
“It feels good,” Metz said. “I feel like I was a part of the win. It was a team effort. We just had a lot of intensity on defense and offense.”
Evans said he’s searching for consistency from his team. The Yellow Jackets could still host the four-team district tournament as the No. 1 seed, which starts next Wednesday, based on its 3–1 record against Caroline and Courtland, the other two Battlefield teams with three losses.
Evans noted his team hasn’t won three straight games all season.
“We’re a middle-of-the-road team,” Evans said. “Our record says that we are ... When we look back it, every game when we have high turnovers and our shot selection is poor and we’re not moving the ball around, we lose. When we play together offensively and we defend well, that’s our recipe for winning.”
Caroline (14-5, 8-3): Mykai Smith 31, Jaylen Taylor 6, Kaylen Taylor 12, Tre Terrell 0, Koby Metz 10, Jay Childs 0, Christian Walker 2, Xavier Campbell 0. Totals: 23 6-11 61.
James Monroe (12-10, 9-3): Girardi Cubillan 7, Ricky Goode-Wright 24, Aaron Carter 0, Tayon Doss 5, Kaison Barnett 2, Parker Smocer-Hildebrand 2, Lual Chol 4, Travis Hudson 3, Jeremiah McCormick 4. Totals: 21 1-6 50.
3-pointers: Caroline 9 (Smith 5, K. Taylor 2, Metz 2). James Monroe 7 (Goode-Wright 6, Cubillan).