Johnson County 61, Happy Valley 50
By Tim Chambers
Fans and former players packed Ray Shoun Gymnasium on Friday night to see Coach Austin Atwood earn the highest honor ever given to him. They also saw the Longhorns christen what now known as Coach Austin Atwood Court with a hard-fought 61-50 victory.
It was a night where the basketball game played second fiddle to this historic event of naming the court in Atwood’s honor, but it was also a game that his team needed to remain in a tie for first place.
The Horns appeared as if they would blow the Valley out of the gym in the first quarter. They quickly grabbed a 15-5 lead getting key baskets by Blake Atwood, Zach Eller and Lucas Philips that sparked a 13-3 run after the game was tied at 2-2.
But the Valley switched to a zone defense and Johnson County began misfiring on their outside shots. Coach Atwood touched on the move.
“I wish in hindsight that I would have pulled the ball back and made them come out and play us man when we got up by 10,” said Atwood. “I figured they would start out in a zone. The plan was to pull the ball out if we got up by 10, but we didn’t, and that’s my fault. We didn’t close the game as we should have and we shot the ball terrible. We missed a lot of point-blank shots that we always make and everything that was going on probably got us off track a little bit too. Give them credit because they took the fight to us and never quit.”
Horns cool off after fast start
The Warriors begin to peck away at the deficit with a five-point outburst from Noah Stevens. Troy Arnold gave the Horns a 17-10 lead with a baseline jumper, but a three-point play by Bryce Carter edged the Valley closer at 17-13 heading into the second quarter.
The Longhorns went ice cold from the field in the second period missing six consecutive shot that enabled Happy Valley to grab the lead. A three-ball by Stevens put them on top 25-23 and Cater extended it with a baby hook in the paint.
Atwood stopped the run with a late three-point play, but they Horns trailed 28-27 at the half.
Reece keeps the Horns afloat in the third
The game swayed back-and-forth like a pendulum on a grandfather clock until Gavin Reece drained a pair of treys that gave the Horns a 39-32 advantage midway in the third quarter.
Happy Valley answered with another trey by Stevens and a three-point play from Dakota Cochran to get within one at 41-40 going into the final quarter. But the momentum shifted in favor of the Horns after Happy Valley’s last lead of 44-43 with 7:00 remaining.
Fourth quarter fury
Eller’s three-ball from the corner gave the Horns a 46-44 lead that they would never relinquish with 6:34 left in the game. The Horns did most of their damage scoring from the foul line where they converted 11-of-14 in the quarter.
Atwood finished with a game-high 26 points, 11 rebounds, five steals and five assists. He felt like it was hard to stay focused with everything that was going on before the game.
“It was a huge win for us because there were a lot of distractions before the game,” said the player Atwood. “I’m so happy to be a part of playing in the game on the night where they name the court after my dad. We needed this game to remain tied for first place in our league. We didn’t play as well as we should have and we struggled some until the fourth quarter. We dug deep and closed it out down the stretch.”
Eller added 14 points and three steals, while Reece contributed six points and three assists. Arnold also had six points and six rebounds.
“They match up pretty good with us,” said Eller. “We play better against a man defense, but we usually play pretty well against the zone too. Coach got us together in the fourth quarter and told us to settle down and play like we were capable. It was the first time we had played a game since being ranked 10th in the state. We have to be ready now because other teams want to knock you off.”
Carter had 15 points and eight rebounds to lead the Warriors. Stevens also tallied 15 points including three treys.
Johnson County (9-1, 21-4) stayed within a half-game of Elizabethton (10-1, 18-5) in the Three Rivers Conference. They can clinch a berth into the regional tournament by defeating Sullivan East at home on Tuesday. But Coach Atwood knows his team has to play one game at a time in order to finish in a first-place tie with Elizabethton.
“I told our guys that I’d had a lot of teams that have played well and lost but very seldom do you have a team that can play this bad and win. We had been playing at a high level over the past several games, so we just have to step back and regroup. We’ve got a good Sullivan East team coming in here on Tuesday, and it’s always tough to beat a John Dyer coached team. We then go to South on Friday, and they are capable of beating any team in our league. We can’t play like we did tonight and win. We got to come out ready to play. This team has a lot left to play for.”