The Johnson County High School boys basketball team wrapped up their regular season with a bang, playing an exciting and strangely unique game against the visiting Unaka Rangers. Fittingly, seniors Brian Dempsey, Patrick South, and Dalton Timbs stole the show, each playing a vital role in the Longhorns final victory. South in particular had an amazing night, scoring in the double digits with 13 points, six of which came from spectacular back-to-back three pointers. Known more for the strong defensive qualities he brings to the team, Coach Austin Atwood was pleased that South got a little time in the spotlight.
What a senior night for a kid that has busted his tail for four years, Atwood said about Souths performance. Hes been a varsity practice guy and as long as Ive coached he has been probably the best role player weve ever had in the program. I know everybody is going to remember the threes he hit tonight, but let me tell you the play he made that really talks about Patrick South: the games at five points, theres a loose ball, he dives, gets the tip out, we get it, one pass, layup, get the turnover, layup and it goes from 5 to 11 all because he did what we have to have him do. We dont have to have him getting the 13 points, weve got to have him getting every loose ball and have him come in and give us a spark defensively, and he knows that. But, what a great night for him to be able to come in. I told him, look Patrick your roles changed. If you get an open look I want you shooting it. No red lights for you, shoot the basket. He did and he made a couple good ones.
Mixing up their tactics a little in light of the senior night festivities, Johnson County ended up trailing right at the beginning of the game as the Rangers came off the bench to quickly go up five points with help from a long range shot. Free throws by Chase Phillips and Brian Dempsey eventually leveled things out, and with South gaining his first basket of the night the Longhorns temporarily took back the lead.
However, the Longhorns did take one more unannounced break in the game just after Dempseys first shot to make another special presentation, officially recognizing the seniors achievement of over 1,000 career points. While the tipping point actually came during last weeks game against Unicoi, Atwood was still very proud to be able honor Dempseys accomplishments.
Brian brings so much to the table, Atwood said. He actually got his 1000th point in the Unicoi game but we couldnt stop play and I didnt want to take anything from Brooke Brown because shes done an outstanding job for the girls program. They both kind of got their individual recognition as they should have.
Speaking after the game, Dempsey was quick to give credit to the efforts of his teammates, but also admitted it was a very memorable night. Im overjoyed but its also bittersweet, Dempsey said. Im very proud of our seniors. Its a lot of emotions, but definitely good ones. Teamwork is what its taken. It has a lot to do with everyone else, I dont believe its all me. If it wasnt for the teammates that are on the floor I wouldnt be as good as I am today. This was a good win for our team, definitely a confidence booster especially for the role guys like Patrick South. Theres nothing sad because were confident that were going to have another game back here when we bring the regionals. It definitely wasnt our last home game in my opinion, but if it is so be it. This teams due for greatness.
Yet even with all of these accomplishments and the emotionally charged nature of a potentially final home game, Unaka still didnt make the win an easy one. The Rangers battled hard all the way through the game and remained neck and neck throughout the first half. Trailing 19-25 Johnson County had to come into the second determined to win back the lead, but with Dalton Timbs making numerous buckets throughout the quarter including a huge three pointer it didnt take long for the Longhorns to make up the difference and finally jump back into the drivers seat.
In fact, it was Timbs shot that ultimately changed the balance of the scoreboard, breaking a tie at 33 by going up 36. With that one bucket the Longhorns never looked back eventually closing out the 2nd 43-38 pushing their advantage as much as possible the rest of the game. Aided by Souths two three pointers, as well as a few shots from Chase Phillips, J.R. Speed, and Cody Bailie, the third quarter went even smoother, wrapping up with a 11 point deficit in Johnson Countys favor 65-56. Riding a rising tide of fan support and momentum, the whole team was on fire in the fourth, with just about everyone on the roster landing at least one basket. With the lead growing steadily, even younger players like Jose Guzman and Brandon Vannoy got in on the action, with the end result being that Johnson County managed 26 points in that one quarter alone.
Finishing up 91-67, the Longhorns second half upheaval simply proved to be too much for the Rangers to keep pace. We came out and gave up 13 in the second quarter, but then had really good stretches in the third and fourth quarter, Atwood reflected after the game. We had some stretches where we didnt defend as well as I would have liked but all in all it was a great senior night.
For Patrick South, who arguably had one of the best games of his career, the win all came down to one thing, having fun. I just got lucky and had a good game, South said. Im glad that I did but Im also glad that we get to go out on possibly the last home game and have a pretty decent game. Im excited about that. To win as big as we did was nice, but I was just playing today. I just wanted to see if I could score. Hit or miss its the last home game and I wont get to play in front of our crowd again so I wanted to put on a show.
Final Score: Johnson County 91, Unaka 67
Chase Phillips 24
Cody Bailie 15
Patrick South 13
J.R. Speed 13
Dalton Timbs 10
Brian Dempsey 9
Jose Guzman 5
Brandon Vannoy 2