After losing a tough game against the Unicoi County Blue Devils the night before, the Longhorns were in desperate need for a shot in the arm coming into the gym at Unaka against the Rangers. The Saturday night matchup proved to be just what the doctor ordered, giving the Longhorns the chance to redeem themselves against a strong and talented opponent. Although they just narrowly came out on top in the end with a one-point victory at 56-55, Johnson Countys resolve and a strong performance by players like Brian Dempsey and Chase Phillips could be an invaluable boost of confidence as the district tournament approaches.
The game was a close one from the very first quarter. With Chase Phillips taking up the point guard position in J.R. Speeds absence, maintaining control of the ball was essential. An early three-pointer by Dalton Timbs helped keep the Longhorns in the drivers seat only to be offset by an equally long range bucket from Unakas Logan Carrier. Matching up almost shot for shot, Brian Dempsey proved to be the deciding factor that allowed the Longhorns to come out ahead early on, as the junior player landed the only free throw in the whole first period to close at 12-11.
The tide quickly turned in the second period as Unaka made one of their biggest advances of the night, putting up another 18 points overall with numerous fouls called in their favor and three back to back three pointers. Johnson County was forced to be content with a single long-range shot from Timbs and a handful of baskets from Dempsey, Chase Phillips, and Chris Poteet. Trailing 23-28 at the half, the lead was still in sight but Coach Austin Atwood knew he had to do something.
Whatever speech the coach gave in the locker room seemed to work, and with a renewed energy the Longhorns took to the court in the third ready to get back the lead and pull out a win. Shots began falling and with yet another three pointer by Timbs added to two more from Chase Phillips, things rapidly started to turn around. Yet, even with these big gains under their belt, Coach Atwood confirmed that one of the biggest offensive boosts came from Brian Dempsey.
This win came out of Dempsey, Atwood said. Dempsey had 26/14, 26 points and 14 rebounds. He kind of took the game over. They had the ball and turned it over a couple times. We caused them to throw it out of bounds off from an in bounce. I just thought the pressure got to them a little bit. Chase Phillips did an excellent job as point guard. So maybe hes coming along and hitting his stride at the right time as well.
Although they came into the fourth quarter still trailing 40-47, Johnson County wasnt about to give up the fight. With their defense finally taking the forefront, the Longhorns were able to hold the rangers back throughout the last eight minutes of the game, limiting their opponents to a mere eight-point gain. Filling his role at the post position, Unaka ended up sending Dempsey to the foul line more often than not, and with uncanny accuracy the Longhorns were looking at an additional six points solely from free throws.
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