By Tim Chambers
ELIZABETHTON—Trying to run with the “Big Dog” was no easy feat for the Longhorns but they made their way on the front porch with a stunning victory. A determined Johnson County squad just refused to lose in their 61-55 victory before a capacity crowd inside of Treadway Gymnasium.
The win put Johnson County in a first-place tie with Betsy and avenged an early loss, which came without starting guard Gavin Reece. It was the second consecutive win in as many years on the Cyclones’ home court for the Horns.
Head coach Austin Atwood knew that this one had a lot riding on it.
“I thought that Zack’s defense was outstanding and Blake did a good job on Wilson after the half,” said Atwood. Gavin and Lucas hit some clutch threes, and Troy did a great job on Everett inside.”
Large leads were nowhere
to be found
The Longhorns held a slim 12-11 lead after one thanks to five points each from Lucas Phillips and Blake Atwood and maintained their one point-advantage at halftime.
Atwood had 11 points at the half as did the Cyclones’ senior standout Eric Wilson. Lees McRae University’s head coach Steve Hardin was on hand to watch both players in action.
“Wilson is as good as there is in East Tennessee,” added Atwood. “Blake did a good job of denying him the ball in the second half. We had to try and slow him down. It’s not just one or two players for us. Our kids know their roles. We’ve got good chemistry with this group. They are a lot of fun to coach.”
Eller’s steal and Phillips’ clutch three
The game was close the entire way with Johnson County holding the biggest lead. Eller’s steal and layup with 2:49 remaining gave Johnson County a 52-47 advantage.
Eller and Atwood scored seven points apiece in the third quarter that allowed Johnson County to take a two-point advantage going into the final frame.
Eller said the team felt confident.
“We didn’t want to lose down here because a win would put us tied for first place with them,” said Eller. “We got down and played some lockdown defense in the second half, and I believe it bothered them some. They’ve got a great team, but this was a game we had to have. I’m proud of all my teammates.”
Johnson County (6-1, 16-4) ran their winning streak to 10 games. They dropped a 71-59 contest to the Cyclones back on November 30.
The Cyclones fell to (6-1, 13-4) after knocking off Science Hill at home last week.
The final three minutes were filled with some clutch shots. Phillips swished a 3-ball from the corner with 3:05 remaining putting the Horns up 55-51. Eller added another while Atwood was 14-of-17 from the foul line including 10-of-10 in the second half. He felt like stopping them on the inside was huge.
“Troy did a great job defending Everett in the middle,” said Atwood. “We also took away the three at the top of the key and didn’t let them get very many fast break points. This game was one that we wanted.”
Nico Ashley got the Cyclones within two at 55-53 with 50 seconds remaining. Atwood put the game away with his excellent free throw shooting.
Atwood led the Horns with 25 points followed by Eller with 18. Phillips also reached double figures with 10. Reece played an outstanding floor game bagging two treys and not committing a turnover. He played every minute in the game.”
The Cyclones had three players in double figures
led by Wilson’s 15 points. Ashley and Parker Hughes added 13 and 10 points respectively.
“I can’t say enough about how proud I am of this team tonight,” added Atwood. “I loved the way the way we finished it out at the end.
Johnson Co. 12 15 16 18 -61
Elizabethton 11 15 15 14 -55