By Jonathan Pleasant
Having competed in so many tough games this season the Johnson County High School Boys Basketball team made last weeks conference round against Sullivan North look easy. Even playing against talented athletes like Grayson Ball, the Longhorns took control early on and didnt give up the lead a single time the whole game. Thats not to say the Raiders didnt give it their best shot. Several times Johnson Countys players seemed to ease up a bit and get a little too relaxed, giving a couple close calls especially late in the game. Yet, considering that his team wasnt giving it their all Coach Austin Atwood seemed pretty impressed with the win.
Senior Brian Dempsey got the game started off right with several back-to-back layups that gave the Longhorns a quick 7-4 lead. Another basket by Chase Phillips pushed Johnson County to 9, but North managed to cut it to a one-point difference with eight of their own. Dalton Timbs was able to help retain the lead, giving way to a final shot from Dempsey to close out the first quarter 13-8.
Point guard J.R. Speed got into the mix in the second, busting a couple of long-range shots wide open. North was never far behind all the way down to the half, but with four or five of the Longhorns top shooters all trading offensive drives, Johnson County was able to stay at least two or three points out front and often as much as ten. In fact a three-pointer from Speed 45 seconds before the half would have seen the second close 30-20 if not for a final buzzer buster by the raiders that allowed them two more points at 22.
Even with the early success the deficit could have been much higher if not for a little trouble defensively from some of the younger players like Sophomore Cody Bailie. After having shown a little early sluggishness, Bailie came out of halftime like an entirely different athlete nailing a few key rebounds and helping to shut down what offense North could muster.
Bailie had a good second half, Atwood said. He was the one we really told we needed the most at half time. He came out and had a good second half. You forget hes a sophomore sometimes and that this is really the first varsity action that hes had. Hes really come along and had a great game last night.
Bailie himself acknowledged that the halftime pep talk in the locker room was what spurred him to get back into the game, with phenomenal results. Coach told me a few things at half, Bailie said. He basically just told me I needed to show up, so I did. I got a little mad, and just started playing. I stopped thinking about it so much. I could be better and improve a lot, but its helped me a lot just playing. Playing varsity football helped me a lot with the strength and speed as a player. Im pretty strong. I get low and try to play strong, but I do get a lot of open looks so I try to work on my mid-range game a lot as well as defense. They need me on defense.
As if to make a point Bailie came out strong first thing in the third quarter, earning himself a trip to the free throw line where he made both shots. Followed by two back-to-back baskets from Timbs, one of which was a huge three-pointer, and Johnson County was off like a rocket. Yet, even nearly 20 points ahead its unwise to count Sullivan North out until the last minute as the Longhorns found out. Cutting it back down to ten by the end of the quarter, the Raiders took advantage of Johnson Countys lax playing to make a huge comeback in the fourth.
Longhorn fans started to get a little worried as players like Ball started landing their shots, eventually bringing the score to 43-47 with two minutes left in play. A layup from Brian Dempsey bought some breathing room at 49, but the Longhorns quickly realized they would have to take things a little more seriously down the final stretch. Fortunately time was on their side and even with just four points between them at 51-47, the 54 seconds remaining was simply not enough for the Raiders to keep pace and work their way in for those two extra buckets.
Pleased with the game, Coach Atwood was particularly glad to see so many players in the lineup contributing to the final score. Our balanced scoring has got to get a little bit better, Atwood said. We usually have a guy with 30 and the other guys with one or two. Balanced scoring with us is crucial. Timbs confidence is growing every day. Hes a great defender and hes getting better every day. We had some good conversation, but number 42 did a really good job for them on getting offensive glass. I think they had eight offensive boards going into half time and out of those eight had 11 or 12 points. We eliminated most of those, but you have to look. Grayson Ball is only playing about 80 percent and hes one of the best players in the league. It might have been a different story if he had been at 100 percent, but still if we can come in here and not play very well and still win, well take it every time.
Johnson County 53,
Sullivan North 47
Brian Dempsey 15
Dalton Timbs 13
Chase Phillips 10
J.R. Speed 9
Cody Bailie 6
By Jonathan Pleasant