Horns suffer loss at hands of Sullivan South
By Jonathan PleasantJust one night out from their extremely tough loss to the Elizabethton Cyclones, it was as if Johnson County fans were forced to watch the same game again at Sullivan South. A fantastic showing on the defense from the Rebels helped shut down the Longhorn’s key shooters and with Johnson County already playing Saturday night’s game with less than usual enthusiasm, the ingredients were all in place for a second consecutive conference loss.
“You have to credit South,” said Head Coach Austin Atwood. “They did a great job on Brian Demspey. They just collapsed on him and we didn’t get any easy looks. We just didn’t play with any type of passion that night or play hard. That earlier Elizabethton game was really a huge let down for us.”
South put up the first two baskets of the game, getting off to a quick 4-0 lead until a three-point basket from point guard J.R. Speed helped level things out. Even so, the Rebels were eager to put some distance between them and the Longhorns, slowly but surely gaining ground. A true defensive battle, neither side made much progress in the first, with South just barely breaking into the double digits with less than 30 seconds on the clock. With Speed’s long range shot aside, the only other Longhorn basket until the second came from a single free throw just before the buzzer, wrapping up the first 4-11.
The second quarter was a little more exciting, especially since it was Johnson County’s best chance to get back in the game. Starting off with a basket by Chase Phillips followed closely by two free throws from Brian Dempsey, the Longhorns quickly closed the gap with South and managed to stay with them down to a game tying final basket before the half. Sophomore Cody Bailie played a big part in the success of the period, not only making a couple of key baskets but also in helping to keep pressure on the Rebels. Yet it was Chase Phillips who actually landed the final bucket that put the game in a 19-19 free for all.
Johnson County’s luck didn’t hold out, and after stalling for the first two minutes of the third, the Longhorns found themselves once again in a deepening hole. With Dempsey now feeling the full force of the Rebels defense, Speed, Bailie, and Phillips became the key offense, making several well-executed plays but never quite enough to keep up. For every basket that Johnson County made it seemed that South had already made two more with the final result being that the Rebels walked into the fourth with an eight-point lead at 31-39.
Even then there was still hope for a turnaround and with Johnson County starting off with a basket in their favor things, might have gone differently. However, with several players like Dempsey earning their fifth fouls and South still pouring on their offense, the gap began to steadily widen again only a couple of minutes into the quarter. By midway Johnson County was behind by more than 10 and with a lack of time now making a final victory seem less and less likely, Coach Atwood began subbing in younger players from the bench.
With the changes in place there was a valiant effort made by Jose Guzman, Brandon Vannoy, Austin Houser, and Spencer Stanley although ultimately to no avail. With just 25 seconds left, Dalton Timbs made the final Johnson County shot of the night, landing a three pointer to finish up 44-53. As Coach Atwood pointed out after the game, that loss not only signified another conference defeat but also carried heavy implications for the team’s rankings in the upcoming district tournament.
“We’re rechecking ourselves a little bit,” Atwood said. “We’re going to be fourth now no matter what, which means we’ll be looking at Sullivan East. We’ll have East either way, but I’m more worried about us than them. We have to get ourselves fixed, and we are. We’re going to get back after it.”