It was a fierce, high-energy battle all the way from tip-off through the final buzzer last Tuesday night in Johnson Countys first round of the annual John Battle High School Tip-Off Tournament. Playing the extremely talented Virginia High Bearcats, Johnson County not only held their own but actually controlled the game most of the evening. With nearly twice as many players on the bench, Virginia High eventually began to pull away late in the third quarter. Yet the Bearcats still had no easy victory as the Longhorns remained well within range of an upset all the way to the last minute of play.
The effort was there, explained Head Coach Austin Atwood. You know you look back and you could do things different ways. I just think if we had made a couple of those late buckets it would have been a different story. We could have fouled earlier. It got down to about the 2:28 mark and I was asking myself am I going to start fouling or keep this going? I just decided that we were going to make a couple plays, and we did, but we couldnt finish those shots. If I had to go back we would have fouled a little earlier but when youre just eight deep its tough.
Although maintaining the effort throughout all four quarters proved a huge challenge, the Longhorns still came out in the first quarter on fire. In spite of a very vocal fan base for the Bearcats, Chase Phillips helped his team take first possession of the ball and very quickly was in a position to put the Longhorns on the board with a three pointer. A second quick shot by Dalton Timbs pushed Johnson County to a 5-0 lead, but Virginia High was just as quick to catch up. Regardless, using a fast pace and some extremely long passes Johnson County put up basket after basket through the first quarter, often in the hands of Timbs, but also with assistance from Brian Dempsey and Cody Bailie.
These rapid layups continued to keep Johnson County in the drivers seat, even against several three pointers from Virginia High. By the end of the period the Longhorns were just one point in the lead at 17-16, but was still a pleasant surprise considering that most predictions heavily favored the Bearcats.
The game remained neck and neck throughout the second quarter, tying up at several points with Johnson County maintaining a very tenuous control. Even with continuous rotations from every player on the bench, the Longhorns intensity slowly began to diminish. In the last two minutes before the half, Virginia High finally overtook Johnson County, 29-32. From that point it was a constant struggle for the Longhorns to keep up, although numerous baskets from Timbs, Dempsey, and Phillips kept Johnson County competitive.
Aiding the offense was an equally strong defense focused around a notably strong performance from some of the younger players on the team. Sophomore Jose Guzman did a notably good job, using his speed and agility to make numerous steals often in mid air. With Jose and Brandon Vannoy, thats what Ive got to get out of those two guys, said Atwood. Even Austin Houser and Patrick South came in and did what we wanted. Those four guys are doing exactly what we need them do except for finishing up some the plays.
The score was 34-39 in Virginia Highs favor at the start of the third and things only got worse for the first few minutes. With a momentary lapse on the defense and a few missed calls that could have changed the course of the game, Johnson County was soon facing a 10-point deficit. That could have been the point of no return for the Longhorns, but the team was able to finally get back on some level footing and worked hard to regain ground. Beginning with a couple shots by Chase Phillips, soon other faces were getting into the mix, including a free throw from Brandon Vannoy and a basket by Cody Bailie.
The Bearcats were able to land enough shots on their side of the court to offset Johnson Countys advances in the third, but by the fourth the Longhorns were starting to whittle it down. Eventually the game came back within three buckets of a turn over but by then it was a matter of racing the clock. Not wanting to risk their victory, Virginia High began a passing game, and although Johnson County made a few critical steals finishing up with a basket proved difficult. The game slowed significantly in the last two minutes and without either side actually scoring the final buzzer ultimately sounded a 51-62 loss for Johnson County.
Despite being upset by the defeat, Coach Atwood still seemed proud of his teams determination and ferocity, especially against such a tough opponent. It was a physical game but that plays to our favor most of the time, Atwood said. They were very athletic. They were more athletic than Science Hill, maybe not as good as them, but as far as being athletic, having to block them out, it was a battle all night. We never let the lead get over 11. Even in the third quarter we cut it back to three and thats what weve talked about. It cant be like Hampton where they jump up from seven or eight to 20. We just havent got the firepower to get it back.
Johnson County 51,
Virginia High 62
Dalton Timbs 22
Chase Phillips 11
Brian Dempsey 10
Cody Bailie 5
Brandon Vannoy 3