By Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
The District 1-AA championship was everything fans wanted to see, and
then some but the outcome didn’t favor Johnson County.
The Longhorns miraculous rally in the final seconds fell short in their 58-55 loss to Unicoi County on Tuesday night inside of Treadway Gymnasium at Elizabethton High School.
Each team showed the heart, determination, and hustle of a champion for 32 minutes. Not one time did either back down from the other.
It was Unicoi’s 7-0 run in the fourth quarter that proved to be the difference.
A three-ball by Nathan Arnold and two free throws from Blake Atwood had tied the game at 47 all with 4:46 remaining.
Unicoi County was faced with a massive decision after 6’4 senior Troy Podvin had picked up his fourth foul on Atwood’s free throws.
They elected to leave him in the game for the stretch run, and he responded in a big way.
He knocked down a trey to put up by three then closed the run with a jumper that vaulted the Blue Devils in front 54-47 with 3:27 remaining.
Johnson County’s head coach Austin Atwood agreed that was the deciding factor in addition to a couple of missed shots.
“That spurt was the difference, but I felt like we should have been up six or eight at halftime instead of down by two,” said Atwood. “We gave up a layup at the buzzer where we didn’t rotate back, but those five points and an offensive rebound by Podvin really hurt. We played a little bit tight early, but the effort was there all night. We made some turnovers that we don’t normally make but credit them for that. I told the kids if we can make that many mistakes and still play within three then we should be in pretty good shape in we clean things up.”
Rally at the half minutte mark
The Longhorns trailed 58-51 with 33 seconds remaining and pulling out a victory looked impossible. That’s where their heart, hustle, and determination took over.
Edes-King made 1-of-2 free throws with 22 seconds left but got his own rebound and was fouled again. He duplicated his prior trip to the line that got them within five then Lucas Phillips added a pair of charity tosses that cut the deficit to 58-55 with 14 seconds showing.
The Blue Devils left the door opened by missing a one plus one allowing Johnson County a chance to tie.
Bud Icenhour’s three-ball looked true but instead rattled and fell off allowing the Unicoi County to escape with the victory.
“I was trying to find the open gaps, and I got some good looks throughout the game,” said Icenhour. “I got a good look on the last shot, but I had to rush it. My teammates did a good job of getting me the ball, but we came up just a bit short. Coach told us that everybody is even again going into the regional. We now have to put this behind us and get ready for our first round home game.”
It was Icenhour’s three-ball at the buzzer in the first quarter that allowed them to go in front at 14-13. He had eight points in the quarter including two treys.
Icenhour continued to light it up in the second quarter. Johnson County scored 12 points, all of them on 3-point baskets.
Icenhour connected on a trio of treys while Nathan Arnold added the other.
Tournament MVP Trevor Hensley had the hot hand for Unicoi scoring 11 points including two treys. It was his assist to Brett Lingerfelt that produced a buzzer-beater deuce helping the Devils take a 28-26 halftime advantage.
Made shots at the buzzer would continue in the third quarter with Unicoi County once again on the receiving end.
Johnson County got a three-ball from Icenhour, but it was the play of Blake Atwood that kept them in the hunt. He cut loose for 10 points in the frame including a pair of treys.
“We’re trying to play every game like it could be our last one,” said Atwood. “We wanted to win for our fans because they filled one side of the gym tonight. You couldn’t have a better fan base. Nobody wants to see the season end. We’re all trying to play for one another.”
Roller Coaster second half
Atwood’s three-ball gave the Horns a 37-33 lead, but the Devils answered with one by Brock Thompson.
Icenhour bagged another trey to make it 40-36, but the Devils closed the frame on a 4-0 run. Danny Lowery’s basket at the buzzer enabled Unicoi County to pull even at 40 all heading into the final stanza.
The homestretch created more excitement over the final eight minutes than a porcupine running around in a helium balloon factory.
The Blue Devils failed at the foul line but somehow managed not to bust.
Icenhour led the Longhorns with 20 points including six treys. Atwood added 14 points and a game-high eight assists. Nathan Arnold has a monster performance, 12 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals. He said the team needs to put the loss behind them.
“We came here to try and reach the finals, and we did,” said Arnold. “It was important to bring a regional game back to Johnson County. I’m glad we were able to do that.”
Edes-King finished with seven but collected ten rebounds.
Hensley topped the Blue Devils with 22 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. Podvin provided 13 points and six boards. Freshman Brock Thompson finished with nine points hitting three treys.
Unicoi’s head coach Mike Smith said the contest was what he expected.
“We knew Johnson County would play hard because they always do,” said Smith. Hensley played well down the stretch, and so did Podvin. There was no need to take him out when he got his fourth foul. We wanted the ball in Hensley’s hands at the end. We felt like playing the fourth-place team from down there would be to our advantage.”
District 1-AA Boys Championship
Unicoi County 58, Johnson County 55
JOHNSON COUNTY (22-11)
Icenhour 20, Atwood 14, N. Arnold 12, Edes-King 7, Eller 0, Phillips 2, Reece 0, T. Arnold 0.
UNICOI COUNTY (20-10)
Hensley 22, Podvin 13, Thompson 9, Lowery 6, Lingerfelt 5, Casey 3
14 12 14 15 — 55
13 15 12 18 — 58
3-point goals—JC 10 (Icenhour 6, Atwood 2, N. Arnold 2) UC 8 (Thompson 3, Hensley 2, Casey 1, Podvin 1, Lingerfelt 1).