Johnson County becomes known as “title town” with historic league win.
By Tim Chambers
KINGSPORT—Johnson County had a share of the Three Rivers Conference championship at the tip of their fingers, and Michael Oxentine made sure it didn’t elude them. Oxentine tipped in a missed shot as time expired giving the Longhorns a come-from-behind 46-44 win over Sullivan South on Friday night inside the Rebels Gym.
It was the final regular season game for both teams with the District Tournament set to begin on Wednesday. Elizabethton had defeated Sullivan Central 46-35 earlier in the evening, so the Horns were in a must-win situation.
It was a tournament type atmosphere inside of South’s Gymnasium with the Rebels student section out in full force and a large gathering of Longhorn fans on the opposite side.
Comments from the winning and
Fans got the witness Johnson County’s 19th consecutive victory which earned them the No. 1 seed in next week’s District 1-AA tournament to be played at Happy Valley High School.
JCHS’ head coach Austin Atwood had already turned his sights toward Sunday’s practice and vowed they would correct things inside the jubilant Longhorns’ locker room. He wasn’t happy with his team’s play nor did he sugarcoat it either.
“We battled for a few minutes there at the end, but I didn’t think we deserved to win,” said Atwood. “We barely played well enough to win, but it’s not good enough to win championships. I thought their coach Michael McMeans had them ready to play; I thought they hurt us with the zone. We couldn’t get anything out of transition on either end, and we didn’t play up to par but give South credit for that. Oxentine made a big play for us at the end, and our kids did a good job of getting on the board. It’s odd that they killed us on the offensive boards late in the game and we get three or four shots off of rebounds at the end to win it. Our kids have worked hard, and they’re very deserving of sharing the league championship with Elizabethton. We have to play better in the tournament. We’ll get it corrected before Saturday.”
It was a heartbreaking loss for South who dropped their fourth consecutive game. McMeans agreed that this one hurt.
“I hate it for our seniors because they played so hard. It’s a tough loss to swallow, but they’re the top team for a reason. We were one play away from knocking them off.”
Dead even first half and quiet third quarter
The Longhorns (11-1, 25-4) were tied 22-22 at halftime after trailing 7-6 after one.
Blake Atwood did his part to keep them in the game scoring 12 first-half points offsetting the dozen tallied by South’s Ben Diamond.
Fans got lulled to sleep in the third quarter as South’s defense sagged into a zone and Johnson County elected to put the ball in the deep freeze with a 27-25 advantage.
Gavin Reece stood near the midcourt line and held the basketball for over four minutes with very little exchange. The Horns missed a shot late in the frame and South would seize the momentum moments later.
Rebels rally to take the lead
The tide quickly turned in South’s favor as the Rebels went on an 11-2 run to start the fourth quarter and led 36-29 with 3:54 remaining.
Reece kept Johnson County in the hunt with a pair of clutch treys including one that cut the deficit to 38-37 at the 2:38 mark.
South hurt the Horns on the offensive glass as Chase Bowery’s three-point play off a missed shot put the Rebels back up 43-39.
Reece continued his clutch play by draining a second three-ball that got the Horns back within one ay 43-42 with1:25 left in the game.
“I kept looking at the clock because they were giving me the open look,” said Reece “They were doubling up on Blake, so I needed to go ahead and take it. I felt confident shooting in that situation. Everybody picked us to finish near the bottom in the preseason, so we want to prove them wrong. Our team plays with a lot of confidence just like we did at the end.”
Horns finally take the lead
They finally moved in front on Atwood’s 15-foot jumper with 35 seconds remaining at 44-43.
South pulled even after Bowery hit 1-of-2 from the foul line with 11 showing on the clock. That set the stage up for Oxentine’s heroics.
The Longhorns quickly got the ball up court and got off a shot and two put-back attempts. The third one by Oxentine proved to be a charm.
“I had to redeem myself because Bowery was going crazy rebounding on the offensive glass,” said Oxentine. “I saw the ball come off the goal and I grabbed it and put it back up quickly. I knew this was my chance and I also knew that there was just a few seconds left. I was a fitting way for us to win.”
Atwood who was selected as one of the three Mr. Basketball Finalist for Class AA led the Longhorns with 24 points including 9-of-9 from the foul line. He said one of their goals was to win the league.
“This was one of our goals at the beginning of the year,” said Atwood. “But South made it tough on us. We had trouble keeping Bowery off the boards, and we also had Zack Eller foul out. It’s been a battle all year. We’re happy to win a share of the conference championship and happy to keep our winning streak alive.”
Reece had a big night with nine points and three steals. Oxentine provided seven points and led the team in rebounding with eight. Troy Arnold grabbed six boards. Eller contributed three assists and three steals before fouling out midway through the fourth quarter.
The Longhorns were 12-of-12 from the charity stripe. (South (19-11, 5-7) was led by Diamond’s 17 points)
Bowery added 12 points and ten rebounds. The Rebels were 10-of-18 on free throws, which proved to be the difference.
“I was really impressed with Bowery and the way he attacked the glass,” Atwood said. “He had several big rebounds for them late and a couple of three-point plays. The bottom line is we made just enough plays at the end to win. What we did so far don’t matter after tonight. Everybody is 0-0 going into the tournament. We have to play well from here on out.”
Sportsmanship at its finest
The game began with South allowing Johnson County to score an uncontested layup. In return, their team manager David Hartgrove was given a shot to score, and he did so with the crowd on their feet. Hartgrove banked one in off the glass for two points then left the game to a standing ovation from both the Rebel and Longhorn fans.
Johnson County 46, Sullivan South 44
JOHNSON COUNTY (46)
Atwood 24, Reece 9, Phillips 4, Arnold 2, Eller 0, Oxentine 7.
SULLIVAN SOUTH (44)
Diamond 17, Bowery 12, Layne 6, Johnson 5, Lay 2, Hartgrove 2
Johnson Co. 6 16 5 19 — 46
Sullivan South 7 15 3 19 — 44
3-point goals—JC 4 (Reece 3, Atwood 1) SS 2 (Diamond 1, Johnson 1)