It was a solemn and emotionally charged night for the Longhorns as they kicked off their first game of the week last Thursday at home against the Volunteer Falcons. Playing through a very tough game, the real challenge for many of the players and especially Brian Dempsey had nothing to do with basketball.
After battling for over a year with cancer, Dempseys father, Donell Dempsey, finally succumbed to the deadly disease. Only hours before the game, Brians friends and teammates stood by him at his fathers service. Determined to play on despite the obvious and understandable weight on his mind, a special moment of silence was called in his fathers memory just before the game started.
Its been tough on our guys, said Coach Austin Atwood. This group is pretty close. Its been hard on those boys. For them to come out and have to battle and have to play a game like that where we were never up by more than 1 or 2 and never down by more than 6 or 7, its just rough. Donell had been sick about a year but the last month and a half he went down hill in a hurry. It was kind of sudden towards the end, a lot quicker than most people thought it was going to be. I just hope Brian can move on and be strong from it. Hes handled it pretty well.
Although the game ended in a last minute victory, the emotions of the day were still too raw for much celebration. Amazingly, it was Dempsey himself who helped to keep his team in the game, and although it was obviously a very difficult time for him, the junior starter did seem to take some comfort in the support of his teammates who had stood by him through the ordeal. I was worried, Dempsey said. I felt like I might have too much on my mind, that I wasnt going to be focused. It started at Teammates, really. It lifted me up and I was able to focus on the game, it helped a lot. I was really proud of them, everyone who contributed tonight.
The game itself was a close one from the very beginning. Most of the first quarter was within 2 points either way, with first one team taking the lead and then the other. At just over three minutes Johnson County was ahead 9-7 but before the clock could run out the game had changed sides again at 11-13. The second period started off much better, with Chase Phillips landing a 3 pointer followed by a bucket from Chris Poteet. The Falcons were quick to put up a basket of their own, only to be answered by one from Dempsey. The struggle continued on up to half time, with Johnson County leading 21-19.
Things tied up again almost immediately at the start of the third with a free throw from Dempsey just barely keeping the Longhorns ahead. Things took a turn for the worse late in the quarter, with Johnson County beginning to fall behind, but as Atwood pointed out; Dempsey stepped up yet again to save the day. That was the big turning point in the game, Atwood said. In the third we were down by 6 and it went to Dempsey in the short corner and he flipped to Mahala and he made a great move to score the bucket. After that it was in the last 2 minutes of the game that we did a pretty good job.
The Longhorns came into the fourth just barely ahead at 33-32, but persistent as ever the Falcons would not slow down the pace, landing the first basket of the quarter and using the momentum to ultimately propel ahead 33-38. With help from Ryan Mahala and J.R. Speed, Johnson County was able to regain their composure and get back on track with just two minutes left in the game. Dalton Timbs was able to get back the lead for the final time with a bucket that put the score up to 44-43, and following yet another successful foul shot by Dempsey the lead eventually climbed to 4 points. Yet even into the last few seconds of the game, fans were still worried about a potential turn around. With just half a minute on the clock the Longhorns were ahead by only 3 points. A last second foul for J.R. Speed gave the Longhorns the 2-point cushion they needed to seal their win.
To read the entire article, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk