Longhorns beat Cloudland Highlands 64-57
By Jonathan PleasantThe Cloudland Highlanders gave Johnson County a run for their money at home Friday night, but in the end, despite losing several critical players to fouls late in the game, the Longhorns still came out on top in what turned out to be a grudge match from start to finish. At times Johnson County would gain a clear and stark lead over the Highlanders, often as much as 10 points, only to find themselves vying for control once again a few minutes later. Most of these quick shifts were due to costly turnovers and trouble with fouls, both factors that ultimately tinged the final, narrow victory.
“We just have to cut down on our mistakes and get better on our decision making, said Head Coach Austin Atwood after the game. “When we get a 10 or 12-point lead, we’ve got to keep building to 14, 16, 18. We just made some bad decisions took some ill-advised shots. They didn’t turn us over that bad in the press we just took some bad shots out of it, which works the same way.”
The beginning of the game went pretty much in Johnson County’s favor. Although Cloudland took the initiative with the first basket, a combination of shots from Chase Phillips and Brian Dempsey soon put the Longhorns back in the driver’s seat. In fact it was Dempsey and Phillips who led the entire first quarter, making exception for one final basket by J.R. Speed right at the buzzer. While Dempsey made most of his buckets from the post-position at the net, Phillips worked the outside corners where he landed a three pointer to push the lead to 12-4. The Highlanders fought back toward the end of the period, but still came into the second trailing 16-9.
The drive that Cloudland started late in the first carried over into the second and within the first three minutes the Highlanders were able to cut it all the way back to a one point difference at 21-20 and trailed just one bucket shy of the lead all the way to half. In fact, the only thing that made the difference for Johnson County throughout the second was a series of free throws by point guard J.R. Speed, who did well despite a poor track record from the foul line for the team overall.
“I feel pretty good about the win,” Speed said. “I definitely need to personally do some things better, take control of my team and not turn the ball over but I’m pretty happy with the win. I know we’ll shoot the ball better at the next game. At the free throw line we were atrocious but we’ll get it back. We’ll get it together and get it in shape. My biggest problem is always my second free throw. The first one isn’t usually an issue. I don’t understand it but more repetition is all it is, more practice and I’ll get it. I haven’t been able to have a full day of practice in the last four weeks, but I think we have a great team. Our biggest challenge is ourselves. We hold ourselves back with those turnovers. When we all get our mind set on protecting the ball and doing the things we need to do we’ll hit our top potential.”
Despite going into the half on a 24-24 tie the Longhorns were able to pull out an amazing string of shots again late in the third to close out 45-34. Had this second push not have happened Johnson County might have been faced with a much different outcome. As it was, even with the lead Longhorn fans were still worried throughout the fourth as Cloudland fought tooth and nail to put together a final shift in momentum. Things were only made worse as the team began to rack up fouls, including one technical against Coach Atwood himself. That call cut the lead to seven at 45-38, but Dalton Timbs got it back to nine with a trip to the foul line of his own.
The game remained critical throughout the last few minutes as key players like Dempsey wound up fouling out and had to be replaced with younger players from the bench. Jose Guzman and freshman Austin Houser were more than ready to do their part, and with time running down, Cloudland began to find foul trouble as well. In fact it was free throws that ended up sealing the final win for Johnson County 64-57.
What was shocking was just how close the game really was, considering the lead had been just four points, 58-54 at the one minute mark, and even closer at 59-57 in the last 18 seconds. Had those final free throws from both Speed and Phillips been unsuccessful, Cloudland might have been able to force a critical turnover that could have changed the entire outcome of the game.
The closeness and intensity of the match up right down to the last second actually seemed to sap some of the excitement from the win, leaving more of a sense of relief than anything else. In the end Coach Atwood seemed to see the game as more of a narrow escape than a purposeful victory. “Their coach did a good job of keeping the pressure on us,” Atwood said. “They knew we are just coming out of football. He is in the same boat I am in trying to get our teams to mesh. We had trouble stopping the dribble penetration. We had a guy stepping late and we knew that going in but we just didn’t guard on the ball very good. We guarded everywhere else pretty good except blocking out. Block outs hurt us.”
Johnson County 64
Chase Phillips 16
Brian Dempsey 13
Dalton Timbs 13
J.R. Speed 10
Austin Houser 3
Cody Bailie 3
Jose Guzman 1