After coming out with a strong win earlier in the week against the Holston Cavaliers, the Johnson County Longhorns geared up for possibly the biggest challenge they would face in the annual Tip-Off Classic at John Battle High School in Bristol. The Cloudland Highlanders have a reputation as a strong team, and despite the Longhorns best efforts, a short slip up in the third quarter was all it took for their opponents to plow their way to a win.
The whole first half was a tense battle for control. The Highlanders came out with a slight advantage but it wasnt long before the young, energized team of Longhorns had actually taken the lead at 6-2. It was still very early in the game however, and after knocking down a couple of smooth three pointers Cloudland was back in the saddle, 6-8. A foul on Brian Dempsey pushed Johnson County back to 7 only to be rounded out by a long-range bucket from Chase Phillips. However, for the Highlanders three pointers are key and before the quarter could close out, Cloudland had made two more to leave the Longhorns behind coming into the second 12-14.
The intense back and forth pressure began to take its toll and Johnson County started to fall behind before the half but were able to keep well within range of the lead. Chase Phillips and J.R. Speed got credit for most of the offensive advances early on, but help from players like Brian Dempsey, Chris Poteet, and Dalton Timbs also began to carry weight as every bucket became essential. Fortunately the defense ramped up as well and it was a full four minutes before either side scored. Even as Cloudland took control at 13-16, the Longhorns worked hard to try and answer each push.
With just over two minutes left in the half, things started to look bleak as Johnson County fell behind 17-24. Determined not to give up, the team managed to pull into the low 20s with a final bucket from Dempsey and Timbs. At only five points difference between the two teams, the outcome of the game was still up in the air as the buzzer sounded. As Coach Austin Atwood pointed out, everything changed in the third quarter.
The 27-22 score was right where we wanted it, Atwood said after the game. Of course we wanted to be the 27 but against Cloudland theyre high tempo from jump ball to final tick. We just gave up some loose balls, gave up some boards, and they just hit some big shots. We had multiple open plays. Our guys wanted to shoot the basketball and it just didnt go down. We knew we had to control the momentum and we did early, but we just didnt finish our plays.
The third started off well for the Longhorns with Phillips gaining the first bucket. The gap closed even further with a free throw by Brian Dempsey, and although the Highlanders continued to keep the lead, the Longhorns were never far behind through the whole first half of the period. Yet, after reaching 25 on the scoreboard, the Longhorns went through a disastrous handful of possessions that ultimately sealed their fate. In that one moment of weakness Cloudland struck, pouring on the pressure offensively and landing a string of four buckets, including one three pointer. From there the score went from 25-29, to 25-37 in less than a minute.
Struggling to get back into the game, Chris Poteet was finally able to get things started back on track after winning the rebound battle at the net, but the Highlanders showed no signs of slowing down either. Starting to wear down from the high intensity of the game, the Longhorns could not overcome the earlier upset. By the end of the third, the team was still trailing by more than 10 at 32-46.
Things leveled back off in the fourth with most Cloudland advances being answered by a bucket on Johnson Countys end of the court, but there was little the Longhorns could do to make up the deficit from the previous period. Chase Phillips was able to make a couple of strong baskets with around four minutes left, but the Longhorns were becoming obviously worn down. By the end of the game, Atwood was putting in players off the bench and it was becoming more certain that the Highlanders would carry the night. Morgan Eggers was the last Longhorn to make a bucket in the game, landing a free throw in the last minute to round out the score at 40 to Cloudlands 56.
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