By Tim Chambers
Johnson County overcame a lot of adversity in Saturday’s game with Cloudland to pull out their first win of the season. Behind some strong bench play from Trevor Gentry and Preston Greer, they were able to derail Cloudland 60-43 on Saturday inside of Ray Shoun Gymnasium in the Hall of Fame Classic.
The Longhorns got off to a flying start but lost three key players due to foul problems and one by injury. Head coach Austin Atwood knows that his young team will face some growing pains after losses to Volunteer and Science Hill before this win.
“Any win that this team gets right now is good, and we’ll cherish it,” said Atwood. “We’ve got a long way to go, and I keep telling people that I don’t know if this group can do it, but if they’re going to, it won’t be until mid-January. We’ve got to find our way because we don’t play hard. They didn’t have to go as hard last year with Zack Eller, Gavin Reece, Troy Arnold, and Blake Atwood, but we’ve got to get our returning players to step up and play smart. Everything right now is a learning process.”
The Longhorns had a great first quarter and opened up a double-digit lead with some red hot shooting from long distance.
Lucas Phillips fired in a trio of three-pointers while Ethan Bower connected on one. The Longhorns broke an 8-8 tie with a couple of baskets on the inside by Michael Oxentine to go on top 12-8.
At that point, the long-range bombing began with Bower’s trifecta and two by Phillips, including one at the buzzer.
The Horns led 21-11 after one.
Staying the course
The Longhorns managed to stay on top thanks to Phillips and Oxentine’s play in the second quarter. The returning duo combined for 11 points helping the Horns stay in front 34-26 at the half.
The quarter proved costly as the Longhorns lost point guard Corie Neely to an injured chin in the frame. He left to get stitches after dishing out three assists, but that was only the start of adversity.
Upstep the reserves
Phillips fouled out early in the third quarter after picking up two quick fouls. He scored 16 first-half points, but Oxentine would pick up the slack in the third quarter.
The “Ox” scored six points and grabbed seven rebounds in the frame helping the Horns maintain a 49-39 advantage heading into the final frame.
It was the Longhorns’ defense and key play by a couple of reserves that did the Highlanders in during the fourth quarter.
Preston Greer had five points, including a three-ball that stretched their advantage to a baker’s dozen 55-42 with 4:15 remaining. Trevor Greer also came up big with five points that included three key free throws and five defensive rebounds.
Clayton Cross connected on a trey from long distance that put the Longhorns up by16 then came up with a pair of steals that prevented the Highlanders from scoring a couple of breakaway buckets.
“We were scrappy there down the stretch,” added Atwood. “We have to play like that the whole game. The guys on the floor played hard at the end. Lucas and Michael have to be on the floor for us. We’ll learn lessons in every game that we play from now January.”
Phillips led the Longhorns with 17 points before fouling out at the 5:01 mark in the third. Oxentine added 16 points and 12 rebounds before picking up his fifth foul with 6:37 remaining in the game.
Gentry came off the bench to provide six points and ten rebounds. Cross added seven points, four steals, and three assists, while Greer contributed seven points and two steals. Bower recorded a game-high five assists.
Caleb Sluder scored a game-high 19 points for the Highlanders. Victor Hicks added 12 points in a losing cause.
The Longhorns (1-2) will be back in action on December 3 at home against Unaka.
Cloudland 11 15 13 3 -43
Johnson Co. 21 13 15 1 1 -60