Horns win over Raiders
By Jonathan PleasantAt a little slower pace but no less determination, Johnson County made things harder than they needed to be in their game against the visiting Sullivan North Golden Raiders last week. After controlling the tempo from the first quarter on, and eventually putting up a solid 10-point lead at half time, the Longhorns almost faced a huge upset late in the fourth as North battled back and overcame the Johnson County defense.
A few key shots including three pointers from J.R. Speed and Chase Phillips helped build back a strong finish, but even Coach Austin Atwood was shaken up by North’s huge third and fourth quarter drives. “We had a couple of kids hitting some big shots down the stretch,” Atwood said. “But, hey, we really didn’t get anything out of that game except those couple of kids making those big shots. We always want to get better, and better, and better. We talk about when we get a team down 10 or 12 we’ve got to go up 16 or 18. We’re not like an Erwin that can get 20 points in the drop of a hat. We have to work for ours.”
The momentum started off heavily in favor of the Longhorns. The trio of Phillips, Speed, and Brian Dempsey did an excellent job making baskets and handling the rebound. North gave a little bit of initial trouble but in a huge Johnson County drive in the last two minutes the score went from 10-8 to wrap up 17-12. The gap widened even farther in the second with Dempsey making numerous free throws as the Raiders fouled him coming in for a layup. A long shot by Phillips pushed things along, 26-18 and a couple of baskets by Speed just seconds apart helped Johnson County close on a 10-point deficit. Sophomore Cody Bailie actually took credit for landing the last basket before the half, wrapping up 34-24.
Everything changed by the end of the third. After holding eight to 10 points out front through the first six minutes of the period, Atwood began to make some changes off the bench. Brian Dempsey, who had done very well on defense the whole night, but was also getting several fouls of his own, came in to a well-earned rest and from that point the game shifted dramatically. “We just didn’t defend, our shot selection was bad, and I think Brian got a little tired from guarding,” Atwood said. “I had him on the ball too much. Where the game changes was when we put Phillips on there in the third quarter. It turned.”
Within the last minute of the third, North had cut it to five and came into the fourth quarter ready to take control for the first time of the night. Accuracy on free throws might have delayed the Raiders drive, but by the 5:43 mark North had cut the lead all the way back and actually took over by one point, 48-49. This was the most critical point in the game, and had Johnson County given up right there, they would likely have lost.
However, after so many close battles and high velocity wins this season the team knew what they had to do to get it back and keep it. Starting with a three from Chase Phillips followed by a basket by J.R. Speed, Johnson County resumed the driver’s seat and caught a notable second wind. With yet another three from Speed, the Longhorns had gone from actually trailing North to once again leading by 10, all in the span of just one minute of game time.
North worked hard to cut what they could in the last two minutes of the game, but with a renewed sense of urgency Johnson County was able to retain their control down to the last buzzer, finishing 66-56. Although it was still a big win, Atwood quickly pointed out that it could have gone much differently. “ We’re very lucky to win,” Coach Atwood said. “But bottom line, we’re 2-0 in the league now which is where we want to be. We’ll get it fixed and we’re going to defend a heck of a lot better than we did tonight. I’d much rather have to correct a win than correct a loss.”