By Tim Chambers
SPRUCE PINE, NC—Johnson County was firing on all cylinders at Mitchell County High School on Thursday. Led by Blake Atwood’s 31 points, the Longhorns raced past the home-standing Mountaineers 56-43 en route to their ninth victory of the season.
Head coach Austin Atwood liked what he saw from his team. He felt like they weathered the storm after watching Mitchell County cut a 13-point deficit to five late in the third quarter.
“I got concerned because we could have easily gotten beat,” said Atwood. “They shot the ball well, and you couldn’t leave them open. We made some big shots when they cut it under double digits, and we got some defensive stops that we turned into points. This is a tough place to play. We’re happy to leave here with a win.”
The Horns were the only team to leave Spruce Pine with a victory as the girls, and junior varsity squads all tasted defeat. They set the tone with a strong first quarter performance that got them off to a good lead.
Atwood fired in 14 first-quarter points that helped them to an 18-11 advantage after one. The second quarter was played pretty even.
The Horns had a 10-point advantage at one stage after getting a three-ball by Gavin Reece and baskets from Darren Cunningham and Zach Eller. The Mountaineers closed to within five, but a couple of baskets by Atwood allowed them to stay in front 29-23 at the break.
The Longhorns kept adding to the lead in the third quarter and pushed it at one point
to 16 on a three-ball by Reece and two buckets by Eller.
The Mountaineers went on a 7-0 run getting a pair of
treys by Jess Ledford to trail 42-33 going into the final frame.
Atwood continued his solid play in the final quarter with a pair of quick buckets. He had a baker’s dozen in the second half before leaving the court with three minutes remaining after the Horns had extended their advantage at 18.
Mitchell County had cut the lead to nine with 4:28 remaining but another three from Reece and bucket by Michael Oxentine was enough to push the margin back to 14.
Reserves flooded the floor after Atwood’s drive in the paint, and two made free throws.
Atwood added four steals and three assists in addition to his 31-point output. Reece had nine points on a trio of treys and three assists. Eller collected six points and four steals. Troy Arnold banged his way for five rebounds and set several good screens on the floor that allowed Atwood to get some good looks at the basket.
Caius Peterson had 11 points for Mitchell with nine coming in the first quarter. Ledford finished with nine.
The Longhorns were to face Abingdon away on Monday and Hampton inside of Ray Shoun Gymnasium on Tuesday.
The Horns will be idle until January 4 when they will play Sullivan Central at home.
Johnson Co. 18 11 14 13 –56
Mitchell Co. 11 12 10 9 –43
3-point goals—JC 4 (Reece 3, Atwood) MC 3 (Ledford 3)
JOHNSON Co. (56)
Atwood 31, Reece 9, Eller 6, Arnold 4, Oxentine 4, Cunningham 2, Phillips 0, Cross 0, Rash 0, Winters 0
MITCHELL CO. (43)
Peterson 11, Ledford 9, McKinney 8, Sparks 2, McMahan 4, Pritchad 6, Pitman 3.