The Lady Longhorns continued their bid in the Johnson City Honda Trailblazer Invitational Tournament at Daniel Boone High School last week in a second round game against the Seymour Lady Eagles. Located between Knoxville and Sevierville on highway 411, Seymour came into the tournament with a strong reputation for playing tough and aggressive, a point they proved in their first quarter against Johnson County.
Pressing hard and fast against the Lady Longhorns, the first few possessions easily fell to the Lady Eagles who managed to steal away the ball enough times to push ahead with a seven- point lead before the first two minutes had passed on the clock. The Lady Longhorns regained a little of their footing with a basket by Sarah Swift and a free throw by Brionna Reece, but before the period was even halfway over the score was still a dismal 3-9. Seymour continued to press their early advantage and by the time the buzzer sounded, Johnson County was faced with a huge 18-point deficit at 6-24.
I dont know what happened that first quarter, said head coach Todd Whittemore. Yesterday we had a great first quarter, today we had the opposite. Im not sure what we did this morning but we just did not show up in the first quarter and that dug us a deep hole.
Johnson Countys offense began to step up in the second quarter, with shooters like Brooke Brown and Sarah Swift landing a few buckets, but the big performance of the game came from Brionna Reece. According to Whittemore, Compared to how she has been playing she really stepped up today. It was back to the Brionna that was second team all conference last year. Earning 18 points overall, with many coming after the half and eight in the second quarter alone, Reece joked about her seemingly renewed strength and energy under the net, while at the same time taking a serious stance on her teams season so far.
Yeah, I got weights for Christmas, Reece said. Half time was rough though. It made us step up and realize we werent playing to our full potential and we needed to catch back up because the first half wasnt very good at all. Were better than our record shows, weve just come up short a few times.
With Reece holding strong, the Lady Longhorns were able to come out with a more respectable score of 20-31 by the half, still leaving an 11-point difference against a solid team. Even worse, Johnson County was already struggling defensively after being forced to play without one of their best starters. Our best defensive player wasnt here today, said Coach Whittemore. Brandy Dugger had to be at a doctors appointment in South Carolina, and she wasnt able to be here. I think she could have helped us, but we were down 18 at one point and still cut it down to two in the fourth.
Even with Dugger absent, Johnson County was able to hold Seymour to just seven points the whole third quarter, due mostly to a decision by Whittemore to shift tactics. I didnt know if we should use press or not, Whittemore said. You never know, but we threw it out there just to see and that press really affected them. I should have tried it earlier, but we were just not hustling in that first quarter. We were jogging. We were getting beat on the break. We werent contesting the shots. We were giving them easy shots. We talk a lot about contesting shots. We have to make them earn it, get a hand in their face, make them work.
Ultimately the strategy worked, and by the middle of the fourth quarter the Lady Longhorns had pushed seven turnovers of their own, giving them the chance they needed to bring the lead well within reach. With two back-to-back buckets from Brooke Brown and three minutes on the clock, the score came within five at 40-45. A foul against Mary Taylor brought it even closer by pushing Johnson County to 43, and with just one bucket between them, the Lady Eagles were getting visibly nervous.
Seymour was able to push a turnover with just over a minute left in the game to get back ahead by four. The Lady Longhorns chances at winning slipped farther away in the last few possessions as Seymour began a game of keep away to run down the clock. This resulted in several fouls against the Longhorns who desperately tried to regain the ball. In the last 18 seconds alone Seymour was able to land six foul shots that ultimately ended Johnson Countys hope of a second consecutive win.
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