By Jonathan Pleasant
The stands exploded in both excitement and frustration last week in Elizabethton, as the postponed match-up between the Cyclones and the Longhorns came down to one final and much debated call. The whole game had been a true grudge match, but when J.R. Speed came up to shoot with only seven seconds on the clock and the Longhorns trailing by just two points, all eyes were on the court. Deftly maneuvering around his opponents, Speed came right down to the line, and Elizabethtons last defender, and let the shot fly, nailing it in the very last second.
The whistle sounded and for the briefest of moments Johnson County fans were elated in the belief that Speed might have not only tied up the game for an overtime bout, but also got the chance at a game winning foul shot. As realization quickly dawned and Cyclone fans began taking up the cheer, it was revealed that game officials had determined the play to be an offensive foul, resulting in a charge rather than a block. In that one swift moment hopes of finally overcoming the Cyclones on the road shattered and the atmosphere became one of disbelief and resentment toward the call.
From his perspective on the sidelines, Coach Austin Atwood believed that the decision was made in error, but also admitted that it should not have been such a close game. I thought he was in position but he pushed with both hands, Atwood said. Nichols was there. I though he did a good job of sliding, but when contact was made both his hands were extended out so thats not a charge. But, hey, officiating didnt win or lose this thing. We cant play from behind them. We dont have to play from ahead but we cant be at two or three points and then go back to 10 and then fight back to three and back to 10. We have to either play a little ahead or fight right there for every possession. We just didnt value every possession tonight.
As Atwood pointed out, Johnson County had several tough moments throughout the game where Elizabethton looked like they might walk away with a clean sweep. Ironically, the match-up actually began with the Longhorns taking a sizable lead, relying on Senior Brian Dempsey for several early buckets followed up by a huge three pointer from Dalton Timbs. Combined with a basket by Cody Bailie, Johnson County was initially in control 11-6. Elizabethton kept bouncing back from Johnson Countys advances, but the Longhorns managed to hang on by at least one point all the way down to the buzzer when a last second three pointer pushed the Cyclones over the top 15-13.
Dempsey came out early in the second with a long range shot to keep Johnson County in the running, but even added with another three by Timbs, Elizabethton still started to pull away. Within a couple of minutes their lead had grown to double digits, 19-29, but then just as quickly shifted back as J.R. Speed hit a three followed closely by two fouls. A layup by Dempsey brought the Cyclones back in range 27-29, but even with a minute left the Longhorns could never quite close the gap, finishing the half 30-33.
Elizabethton did a super job on the boards in the first half, Atwood said. In the second half we might have made a little difference there, but in the first half they had at least eight offensive boards. Their depth hurt us. We turned it over three straight times before the half because we were tired, made some soft passes, it kind of got to us.
The third quarter followed almost an identical pattern, with the Longhorns hanging in neck and neck only to slip up and let Elizabethton get nearly 10 points out front at 34-43, only to turn it back around to finish up a couple buckets shy. By midway through the fourth, a couple of fouls against Speed and a three pointer by Phillips finally saw the game tie at 52. Cutting down to the last two minutes of the game, Timbs hit yet another huge shot to give back the lead 55-54, but a foul at the one-minute mark tied it up again at 55. Foul trouble ended up creating the scene for the final call as Elizabethton pulled ahead for the final time with two free throws 57-55.
Two points behind with no remaining time outs and the clock working against them, the Longhorns went back out onto the court to try to get in one last play, and even though the end result didnt quite pan out, Atwood had to admit the team did a very good job with their execution.
We knew we were getting double teamed from behind when Brian caught it at the high post, Atwood began. We were trying to get a dribble drive, get some help and get it to an open shooter if it was Dalton or if it was J.R. Vannoy was out there and he can shoot it too, but that play was adlibbed. J.R. just made a play. We had no more timeouts left. He knew to get it to the rim and that was just a hit miss call. When you have both hands extended out to keep the kid off of you, thats a block. When we play them again next week it will be a great game to come to. Its our homecoming night, and that will be a big game.
Final Score: Johnson County 55, Elizabethton 57
Brian Dempsey 21
Dalton Timbs 11
J.R. Speed 10
Cody Bailie 6
Chase Phillips 5
Patrick South 2
By Jonathan Pleasant