The Longhorns played an amazing game against the Volunteer Falcons last week, leading on the scoreboard from start to finish. Playing on a strange court against a much bigger school there was some initial anxiety concerning how the young team from Johnson County would perform under pressure, but within the first few minutes it was clear that the team had winning on their minds.
Switching up their defense to dominate on turnovers and then making the first bucket of the night, the Longhorns didnt let up all the way through the first quarter. Sophomore, J.R. Speed led the way with help from seniors River Cazire and Ryan Mahala, who did a fantastic job on the rebound. Topped off with some big three pointers by Chase Phillips, the Longhorns closed out the first eight minutes of the game already ahead 15-4.
The Falcons started to regain their footing a little at the beginning of the second by closing the gap to four points at 15-11, but like a rocket the Longhorns took off again in the last four minutes. Back to back buckets from Brian Dempsey, and a long range shot from Speed, pushed the Horns on into the 20s while a strong defensive showing held the Falcons at bay. I thought we played well early, especially defensively, said Coach Austin Atwood. Just not letting them get in the pain and not letting them go off the bounce and kick the shooters; that was really big for us.
Free throws began to make a big difference as well, and as the Falcons began showing signs of frustration, the Longhorns only climbed higher on the scoreboard. Things were looking pretty good for Johnson County going into halftime, with a 31-18 lead that left many of the hometown crowd livid, while the Longhorns dedicated group of fans felt that a win was in the bag.
However, as Coach Atwood pointed out, some serious slips in the second half of the game made sure that Johnson County had no easy victory. Well, we made it a lot harder than we needed to down the stretch, Atwood said. I though we came out in the third quarter and did a super job. I wish I would have stayed in the press in the third and tried to slow them down but we got our buckets and we just traded with them, which wasnt really good on our part. I thought their coach did a super job of making adjustments at half time and hitting that corner guy but we just kind of outlasted them.
Things started off well in the third with Phillips hitting a three pointer only to be followed up with another two-point bucket. Unfortunately after landing at 38, the Longhorns defense began to falter slightly, allowing Volunteer the opportunity they had been waiting for. Hitting two long-range shots of their own, the Falcons were able to ultimately put up 10 unanswered points in a two-minute span that cut the lead to 13. Two further baskets brought the lead on down to seven, and by the end of the third the Longhorns were starting to get worried.
Realizing they might be able to turn the game around, the Falcons began playing more franticly in the fourth, but this was much to Johnson Countys relief as their opponents also began fouling more often. The first big upset was a technical foul that put Chase Phillips on the line. As their opponents became more and more frustrated the Longhorns were given more and more opportunities at foul shots.
By the last couple of minutes it was becoming clear that J.R. Speed had become a target for Volunteer and with the Longhorns lead hovering at 10, the refs were forced to start calling intentionals. Yet, while this rough turn of events was obviously frustrating for Speed, the sophomore took it in stride. When youre ahead youve got to try to be the bigger player, Speed said. Its all about getting the win. Theyre just playing physical and I dont take it too much to heart. It can be frustrating at times, but youve just got to be able to walk away. Weve been shooting a lot of free throws at practice and its about time that weve seen some improvement. If we can keep this up through the year we might win some more games. We switched our defense, got steals when we should have, our knock down free throws were huge, we executed some plays, and could have done a little better at that, but defense was the main key. Its all about teammates getting you open shots and working together.
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