By Tim Chambers
ELIZABETHTON—Johnson County’s 19-game winning streak was ended on Saturday and thus ended its chance of hosting a first-round regional game at home. The Longhorns lack of offense for three quarters led to their 58-50 loss to Sullivan South in the District 1-AA semifinals played inside of Bayless Gymnasium at Happy Valley High School.
It was a bitter loss for the Horns who had to battle through what fans felt were some questionable calls and lack of along with the derogatory chants that were spewed out by South’s student section for 32 minutes behind their team’s bench.
South went to the foul line 24 times and made 18. Johnson County hit 7-of-8 from the charity stripe, and Atwood went only three times despite drawing more attention than President Donald Trump would at a Golden Corral buffet bar.
The bizarre events were things that great teams must be able to play through and the Longhorns simply failed to do so which led to their loss. Johnson County found a way to steal a 46-44 win just eight days before Saturday’s loss that allowed them to share the conference championship with Elizabethton.
A repeat was not
in the cards
It was a night where Mr. Basketball finalist Blake Atwood had to work for every point he gathered and was primarily guarded by two defenders, a clever move on the Rebels part. They triangled Atwood when he got the ball, forcing the remaining Longhorns to knock down shots which they didn’t until the fourth quarter.
The Horns managed to grab a 14-11 lead after one and Atwood tallied 10 of those including a pair of treys, but nobody else was able to contribute very much in the first half.
Johnson County was held without a field goal in the second quarter until reserve Clayton Cross bagged a three-ball with 30 seconds remaining to tie the game at 17 all. Lucas Phillips put the Horns on top with a pair of free throws, but a three-ball by Gavin Parker at the buzzer gave South the halftime lead at 20-19.
South’s defense continued to focus on Atwood in the third quarter electing to trap around the 30 feet range and cutting off all driving lanes to the bucket, but it was he who kept the Horns in the hunt.
Atwood scored nine of the team’s 12 points, yet they trailed 35-31 heading into the final stanza.
South continued to pressure the Horns by going on a 9-3 run over the first three minutes of the fourth quarter. Chase Bowery’s putback of an offensive rebound gave the Rebels a double-digit advantage at 44-34, but the Horns refused to go away.
Atwood ignited a 10-2 run by connecting on a long three-pointer that woke up the likes of Gavin Reece and Lucas Phillips.
Phillips and Reece bagged back-to-back treys that cut South’s lead at 46-44 with 2:50 remaining but Bowery and Ben Diamond would crush their comeback hopes.
Bowery made a nice spin move in the paint to score while Diamond added four quick points that stretched it back to 52-44 with 1:10 remaining.
The Horns played with a lot of heart down the stretch but had dug themselves to big a hole to walk away with another comeback win.
Phillips connected on his third trey in the quarter that pulled them within four at 54-50 with 32 ticks remaining, but Bowery’s layup would seal the deal with 14 seconds showing giving South (21-12) an unpredicted trip into the championship game.
Bowery ended the night with 12 points and ten rebounds for the Rebels. Last year he missed a close jumper that would have won the game at Johnson County that resulted in a 64-63 loss. He also said the defeat they suffered on a senior night left a bad taste in their mouths.
“Last year Coach Atwood told me that we had a lot of talent and we’d go far yet we ended up losing in the first round of the district,” said Bowery. “So we’ve always had that push to beat them.”
Atwood scored a game-high 22 points and also added five rebounds and four assists. South’s head coach Michael McMeans acknowledged that the game plan was to make the others beat them.
“You pick and choose your battles when you’ve got a Mr. Basketball finalist on the opposing team,” said McMeans. “They have plenty of guys that can shoot the ball and make shots, but tonight we chose to make it tough on
him and make the others beat us. Tonight it went in our favor.”
The majority of Johnson County’s fourth-quarter offense came from Phillips and Reece. They combined to hit 5-of-8 from behind the three-point line over the final seven minutes plus.
Phillips finished with 11 points while Reece added eight.
Diamond led the Rebels with 13 points officially while Cole Layne chipped in with 11.
Coach Atwood knew the Horns were in for a long night as the game played on.
“I knew if they stayed in the game early that it was going to be a long night,” he said. “I was just hoping we could put them away early and maybe make some big shots and get on a roll. And I knew when that didn’t happen we were going to be in a grind. They’re bigger, stronger and faster than we are, and shoot the ball just as well. Michael (McMeans) does a good job of coaching them, and they are very talented with a lot of quickness and size.”
Atwood went on to praise his team after winning 19 straight games before Saturday’s loss. He pointed out the key to their success.
“We’re definitely not the most talented team in our league, maybe not even in the top three. But we play good together. I’m not disappointed with them at all. South’s outplayed us that last two games, and that’s the bottom line. They deserved to win tonight. We’ve now got to bounce back and find a way to defeat Unicoi County.”
The Blue Devils (9-22) lost to Elizabethton (21-6) by a score of 55-38 in the other semi-final contest.
District 1-AA semi-finals
Sullivan South 58,
Johnson County 50
SULLIVAN SOUTH (58)
Diamond 13, Bowery 12, Layne 11, Parker 8, Chase 6, Elledge 6, Pollack 2, Johnson 0, Necessary 0
JOHNSON COUNTY (50)
Atwood 22, Phillips 11, Reece 8, Arnold 5, Eller 0, Cross 3, Oxentine 1
Sullivan S. 11 9 15 23 -58
JCHS 14 5 12 19 -50
3-point goals—South 4 (Elledge 2, Parker 1, Diamond 1) JC 9 (Atwood 3, Phillips 3, Reece 2, Cross 1)