Horns come back with big 10-point win over Unaka
By Jonathan PleasantJust one night after a painful one-point loss to the Sullivan South Rebels, Johnson County was back on the court and eager to get on the winning side of things against the Unaka High Rangers. Never an easy victory, the Longhorns had to fight the whole night, but were rewarded by the end of the game with a final 10-point lead.
“After coming off of a game like last night where we had so much effort, I know we were wore down a little bit,” admitted head Coach Austin Atwood. “But, it’s always tough to come into Unaka and get a win. I tell you, there’s one thing you can bet on when you come here to play, Aaron’s kids are going to play hard and they’re not going to quit. He does a super job getting a lot out of his team. I credit them, those guys played really well. They’re young and we’re kind of veteran a little, but I thought Unaka did a great job and I feel fortunate that we were able to come in here and get a win.”
Senior Brian Dempsey had a particularly good night, putting up 30 points overall and getting the first basket of the game. Junior Chase Phillips was right behind him with 20, several of which were three pointers, while Cody Bailie, J.R. Speed, and Dalton Timbs rounded out the Longhorn’s offense. With the team’s communication getting better over the past few weeks, especially as point guard J.R. Speed gets better at accurately interpreting his teammates actions and reactions, it was no surprise that even against a determined opponent, Johnson County was able to keep control most of the night.
However that’s not to say that Unaka didn’t have some strong moments as well. After the Longhorns jumped ahead in the first with a huge 9-0 drive, the Rangers returned fire and would have tied it up had it not been for a final foul against Dempsey that allowed Johnson County to come into the second 13-10. This huge turn around starkly pointed out that the Longhorns were going to have to keep up their guard to pull out a victory.
“We’ve got to clamp down a little harder,” Atwood said. “We have to extend those leads a little bit. I’m always on J.R. about having to keep playing better, but really this is the first time we’ve ever had J.R. He was hurt some early in the year, he was gone last year, so really when your point guard isn’t in sync it’s tough. But I tell you, without J.R. we would get beat by 10 or 15. Even though he has to get better and has to mesh better with our guys, all we’re waiting on is him to kind of get the feel, and he will get it. He’s not turned over the ball near as much. His shot selection sometimes puts some of the other guys in a bad position to catch and score, but the point guard is going to be the guy that draws help and kicks to a guy to get open layups like we did there in the last part of the game.”
Speed did a really good job through the rest of the half, giving his team just enough leeway to maintain control even as the Rangers made several late advances. Coming into the third 28-24, the game was still up in the air but Johnson County had a lot of motivation to win. “Tonight I told everybody in the locker room that we need to come out and get us at least one win before we go play the Arbys,” said Chase Phillips. “I said, Let’s not come off a losing streak. It was pretty tough. We came out pretty fired up and ready to go, but they’re always good. That Carrier kid, you never know where he’s going to pull it from. He pulls anywhere, we just have locate him.”
Even with Carrier making several buckets, the game fell decidedly in Johnson County’s favor all the way through the third and most of the fourth. In fact, the Longhorns were nearly 20 points ahead coming into the last period at 50-34. Unaka gave their best effort toward the very end of the game, actually cutting the gap back to ten, but with a steady stream of easy layups, Johnson County ultimately walked away with the victory.
Johnson County 71
Brian Dempsey 30
Chase Phillips 20
J.R. Speed 9
Cody Bailie 8
Dalton Timbs 4