By Tim Chambers
Three strong quarters of offense at its finest and a second-half defensive clinic from Johnson County spelled doom for visiting Cloudland on Tuesday night inside of Ray Shoun Gymnasium. The Longhorns scored 69 points over the first three frames and held the Highlanders to 20 second-half points in a 78-46 win.
The Longhorns rode the hot first half shooting of Blake Atwood to lead 20-15 after one. The senior sharpshooter scored a baker’s dozen in the frame while running mate Zach Eller added five points including a trey.
Their largest lead was nine points, but Highlanders got a three-ball from Dillon Sparks at the buzzer to pull within five at 20-15.
“We played a little soft on defense in the first quarter, but we started to pick it up some in the second quarter,” said JC’s head coach Austin Atwood. “I couldn’t be more pleased than how we played offensively. I thought that Eller did a great job of pressuring the ball and Gavin Reece had a really good game defensively. We challenged them at halftime, and our defense shut them down over the final two quarters. Cloudland is well coached so this is a good win for us.”
The momentum swing stayed in Johnson County’s favor throughout the second quarter. Atwood continued with the hot hand scoring nine more than gave him 22 points at the half. He ended the night with 27 points, a pair of steals and three assists.
“We had played against some very athletic teams at the Bahamas, so we were more worried about us than them,” said Blake Atwood. “We didn’t want to come out and not play well. The tempo was to our liking because we enjoy getting the ball out in transition. We got a lot of quick buckets, and our inside people did a great job of keeping them off the boards.”
The Longhorns got five second-quarter points by Gavin Reece and four more from Michael Oxentine that enabled them to build a 44-29 halftime advantage.
It was “Katy bar the door” to start the third.
Eller hit a big three then came up with a couple of steals that produced a pair of baskets by Darren Cunningham and Michael Oxentine. Clayton Cross connected on a trey, and Lucas Phillips produced a deuce that signaled the romp was on.
“We started getting some steals and were able to put the game away in the third,” said Eller. “We were excited to get back home and play in front of our fans. We didn’t want to disappoint them. Coach told us that teams usually play badly on the first game back from the Bahamas and we didn’t want that to be us.”
Eller added 10 points, five rebounds, two assists, and three steals. He and Atwood sit the final eight minutes.
The fourth quarter allowed both coaches to flood the floor with reserves. Zach Winters tossed in a nice runner for the Longhorns while Hayden Luckett had a late basket.
Oxentine was the third Longhorn to reach double figures with 10. Cross had his best varsity game scoring nine points. Cunningham and Reece added six and five points respectively.
Bentley Gilbert had nine points for the Highlanders. Hunter Shell and Robert Leeper tossed in eight apiece.
The Longhorns are now 5-3 on the season.
Cloudland 15 11 10 10 –46
Johnson Co. 20 24 25 9 –78
3-point goals—Cloud 3 (Shell 2, Johnson) JC 5 (Atwood 2, Eller 2, Cross)
Gilbert 9, Shell 8, Leeper 8, Johnson 3, E. Blair 3, Arnold 6, Barnett 3, Stevens 2, J. Blair 4.
Johnson Co. (78)
Atwood 27, Eller 10, Oxentine 10, Reece 5, Arnold 2, Phillips 4, Cross 9,
Cunningham 6, Winters 2, Luckett 3