By Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
ELIZABETHTON—Johnson County hadn’t tasted success in the District 1-AA basketball tournament since February of 2014. The drought without a first-round win is finally over.
The Longhorns defeated Sullivan Central 36-33 on Friday night inside of Treadway Gymnasium guaranteeing themselves three more games and a berth into next week’s regional tournament.
They did so despite scoring a season-low in total points in a game where the Cougars slowed down the pace from start to finish.
Johnson County’s head coach Austin Atwood was drained but relieved after the contest.
“It’s tough when you hadn’t been here in a while to get a win,” said Atwood. “We didn’t play that well, but we usually don’t miss free throws down the stretch like we did tonight that could have put the game away. We got lucky when they missed a couple of shots where they had good looks at late. The bottom line is we hung on and survived. I think our kids will play better in our semifinal game with Happy Valley. They know that we can host a first-round regional game at home should they win.”
Atwood hit the nail on the head when he spoke about the Horns playing tight, and jumped on top 4-0 on a steal and layup by Blake Atwood and Jordan Edes-King’s bucket in the paint.
That’s when Central elected to slow it down including a couple of late baskets by Jordan Self to go up 8-6 after one. The Cougars took only eight shots in the quarter.
The second frame continued to be a grind with Central holding the upper hand early. A three-ball by Ben Williams and Self’s jumper gave them their largest lead of in the game at 13-8.
The Longhorns would finally take the lead by going on a 6-0 run. Baskets from Lucas Phillips, Jordan Edes-King, and Blake Atwood would push the Horns in front 15-14 at the 1:43 mark. Self put the Cougars back in front, but Atwood’s late jumper allowed Johnson County to lead 17-16 at halftime.
“Every point seemed to be crucial at the time,” said Atwood. “We weren’t getting anything off our transition offense. It’s hard in a game like this to get going because the pace was so slow. Getting the win was all that mattered. We proved we could win playing that style of game.”
The contest would remain close in the third quarter although Johnson County never relinquished the lead, including a massive boost by Nathan Arnold who tallied five points in the quarter. His 3-ball allowed them to extend their advantage at 26-21 heading into the final quarter.
The shot was huge because points continued to be a premium over the final stanza.
Zack Eller gave Johnson County’s its biggest lead at 28-21 on a nice fader, but Central responded with a three-ball by Jackson Harrison. The Cougars got back within one twice, but deuces by Eller and Edes-King would extend their advantage back to five.
Eller basket with 55 seconds remaining gave the Horns what looked like a comfortable 36-30 lead, but they missed four straight times from the charity stripe which would have put the game away. Fortunately, Central wasn’t able to take advantage of it allowing the Horns to escape with a 36-33 victory.
Edes-King had a big night with 11 points and seven rebounds to lead the Longhorns. He also took three charges in the game. He said that making the regional was special to him.
“I was in the eighth grade the last time we made it,” said Edes-King. “I’ve never played in one, so this is really special. We had jitters before the game because we’ve never been there before. We got it done, and that’s all that matters.”
Eller’s scored all his eight points in the fourth quarter and came up with three steals. He too was excited about their upcoming journey into unchartered waters.
“We kept trying to weather the storm because the game went back and forth,” said Eller. “I felt good when we got up by six because we normally make our free throws. It was tough at the end, but we got the win, and now it’s on to the regional. “
Arnold scored seven crucial points and provided two assists. Atwood tallied a half dozen points and three steals and two assists. Icenhour collected four assists and three steals despite being held to two points.
Self had a game-high 17 points and eight rebounds to lead Central.
District 1-AA Quarterfinals
Johnson County 36, Sullivan Central 33
JOHNSON COUNTY (21-9)
Edes-King 11, Eller 8, N. Arnold 7, Atwood 6, Icenhour 2, Phillips 2, T. Arnold 0.
6 11 9 10 — 36
SULLIVAN CENTRAL (9-20)
Self 17, Harrison 6, Williams 3, Bradley 2, Arnold 2, Robinette 2, Long 1
8 8 5 12 — 33
3-point goals—JC 1 (N. Arnold 1) SC 4 (Harrison 2, Self 1, Williams 1)