Unicoi squeaks past Longhorns
By Jonathan PleasantAs the season wears down the Longhorns have only had tougher challenges to overcome. Picking up a postponed game against the Unicoi County Blue Devils last Monday, Johnson County made it very clear that the workload is paying off. Fighting tooth and nail for control, the two teams took the final win right down to the last second, and even then it looked like the Longhorns might come out on top. A last play that might have made the difference in the final outcome did not find its way to the net, bringing Johnson County just two points shy of a win at 44-46.
Regardless of the final score, no one could deny that the game was an exciting battle from start to finish. “We held them to 46 points and if you had told me that before the game I would have said we won by 8 or 10,” said head coach Austin Atwood. “We said at half time that if we could hold them to 49, because they had 29 at the half, 10 points a quarter and we’d have a chance. The thing that got us, defensively at the start of the third we were great. Offensively we were not very good. We never rewarded ourselves with a bucket when we got stops. Instead of us being up four at the start of the fourth we should have been up 10 or 12, but they did battle. We came down to where it was if your coach had you ready to run the end of the quarter set play, but we didn’t execute. If we’re more prepared for a last second play we may win the game or at least get a better shot and that goes on me.”
The first quarter resulted in a close one-point deficit at 12-13, and ultimately started a battle for control that ran all the way to the half. At 22 points Brian Dempsey kept his team in the game even when it got tough. Remarkably many of his early advances came not from his normal position at the net, but rather from the outside where he was able to land a three pointer. “I figured I’d mix my game up first and start off the side,” Dempsey said about the change. “I knew they were going to double me down from the post at the get go, so I tried to drag them out and get in their head a little bit and hope to be able to play down post where I could really be able play my strong point. A loss like this is hard to get by but I’ve just got to get better and try to take the good out of it.”
Atwood also noted Dempsey’s performance, highlighting the fact that even though the team has had some bumps lately, especially from injuries, there is still hope of a strong end of the season run. “Dempsey is shooting great,” Atwood said. “He really is shooting good, but this team is a little different. They were doubling him on that post after the first quarter but Brian did a good job.”
Yet, with other key players like J.R. Speed missing in action, Atwood also admitted there was a lot that could have gone differently. “I’ve got to make sure our guys are ready,” said the coach. “We go back to our pre-game and practice where we talk about us wanting to take charge. We’ve got to do a better job in a scenario where you’ve got to have a good clean look. We fouled way too much early, got them on a one and one and they shot the free throws pretty good. They scored 12 points from that free throw line and we can’t do that. It’s the second time where our chemistry has been shot again. We finally get Chase back and we have two really good ball handlers with J.R. and him where we don’t have to put Dalton in that situation or Chris in that situation, but we’ve just had a run of bad luck and we’ve just got to get through it.”
Tied up early in the third at 29, the Longhorns actually went into a short-lived lead where they put seven points between them and their opponent thanks to a basket by Chris Poteet. While the success lasted through the remainder of the quarter, a strong showing from Unicoi late in the fourth brought it back down to a close race to the finish. At just 21 seconds on the clock the score settled at 43-45 with the Longhorns trailing. A foul against Dempsey gave Johnson County one last opportunity to even the odds, but even though the junior player landed one of the buckets, a slight miscalculation caused the other to be off. Another foul, this time in favor of Unicoi left the final score at 44-46.
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