By Tim Chambers
BLOUNTVILLE—No two-dollar pistol or flaming fire could be any hotter than what Johnson County is right now. The Longhorns ran their winning streak to 16 games by trouncing Sullivan Central 75-45 inside the Dickie Warren Dome on Monday.
The win kept the Horns (8-1, 20-4) in a first-place tie with Elizabethton in the Three Rivers Conference standings with three conference games remaining. It also pretty much assures them one of the top two seeds in District tournament play and an automatic berth into the 1-AA regional tournament.
“It’s always big when you can come on the road and win a conference game,” said JCHS’ head coach Austin Atwood. “Our boys are playing at a high level right now. They all know their role and some roles are bigger than others, but all of them are important. We can’t afford to lose anyone because it will be costly. We saw what happened when we lost Gavin during that stretch with a sprained ankle. We have to keep everyone healthy and playing hard. This group defines what a team is.”
Johnson County’s last loss came at home on November 30 when they fell to Elizabethton 71-59, and they were without starting guard Gavin Reece. Their other losses were to AAA icons Dobyns-Bennett, Science Hill and Sunland Baptist Academy out of the Bahamas.
Horns start slow, but find their groove
Things didn’t look good in the early going for the Horns. They fell behind 11-6 before Atwood signaled for a timeout.
Whatever was said did the trick because Reece and Lucas Phillips hit back-to-back treys that would trigger a 21-4 run before the first half ended.
The senior duo of Blake Atwood and Zach Eller had a lot to do with that. They combined for 15 points during that stretch run, and the Horns were able to take a 34-20 half time advantage.
“Blake let the game come to him, and he didn’t take bad shots,” added Coach Atwood. Zach was causing their guards trouble with his quickness, and everyone was playing hard. We made better cuts on the offensive during the run, and we didn’t settle for a lot of outside shots. I thought we hurt them with our quickness in the paint. We were able to get some easy baskets.”
Atwood produces and so does his supporting cast
Atwood scored a game-high 25 points and also contributed five assists, five rebounds, and two steals. He tallied 12 points in the paint and ten came from the foul line.
“He does a lot for this basketball team,” said Coach Atwood. “He’s like having a coach on the floor. Tonight he let the game come to him and didn’t take bad shots. I thought our shot selection was good across the board. We got everyone involved.”
Central was without their head coach Derek McGhee who out serving a two-game suspension. Assistant coach Brian Barbour took over that role.
“We tried to keep Atwood out of the paint because he’s outstanding when he gets the ball there but couldn’t. He made some hard contested shots that hurt us. I thought they all shot the ball well. They played harder than we did during that one stretch and we never recovered.”
Phillips had a big night with 14 points, seven rebounds, and three assists. Eller cashed in on 13 points, and three steals and Troy Arnold once again was solid with seven points and six boards. Reece played almost the entire game without committing a turnover and scored five points. Michael Oxentine made a sizable contribution scoring six points and grabbing five rebounds.
Trey Rosenbalm and Ben Williams led the Cougars with 12 and 11 points. It
was Central’s sixth league loss in their last seven games after starting the season
Johnson County will host Happy Valley on Friday. Coach Atwood will be honored for collecting his 300th win earlier against Sullivan South.
Johnson Co. 13 21 19 22 -75
Sullivan C. 11 9 11 14 -45
3-point goals—JC 8 (Eller 2, Phillips 2, Atwood 1, Reece 1, Arnold 1, Winters 1). SC 3 (Rose 2, Williams 1)