Although they battled back from incredible odds, the Johnson County Longhorns couldnt close the gap that opened up during the second quarter of last Fridays game against local rivals, the Hampton Bulldogs. In a single three-minute span before the half the Bulldogs managed to jump nearly 20 points ahead thanks to a combination of accurate three-pointers and free throws from Johnson Countys own foul trouble. Proving that one bad run can mean the difference in a game, even though the Longhorns did fight valiantly all the way through the third and most of the fourth, it ultimately just added to the bitterness of the final defeat.
We cant dig a hole like that, said Head Coach Austin Atwood. We didnt come out ready to play. We didnt play with much passion, but thats what makes it so bad when you see us battle back like that. We cant battle back, we have to play that way the whole time. We dont have the depth on this team to come back from 16-18 points down. We didnt get our defensive rotations down, we were in foul trouble, trying to get some kids some rest. Personnel wise we just didnt do a good job getting players in when we needed to.
The game actually started off evenly matched with Chase Phillips getting the first basket of the night on a long shot from center court. Hampton quickly came back with a bucket and a couple of free throws, but thanks to efforts from senior Brian Dempsey and a surprisingly good offensive showing by Cody Bailie, Johnson County remained neck and neck throughout the period, even taking back the lead 10-9, only to close out behind 12-15.
The game began to shift early in the second, but the points deficit was still manageable all the way down to the three-minute mark. Starting from there with a Hampton three-pointer, things went from bad to significantly worse, ultimately ending up with the Longhorns behind 19-40 at half time.
A combination of shots from Johnson Countys core players, Brian Dempsey, Chase Phillips, and Dalton Timbs helped cut this huge gap back to 14 points midway through the third, and once again with a strong offensive showing by players like Cody Bailie, the lead inched closer and closer to single digits. Yet the real problem was shutting the Bulldogs down on the defense, something Bailie is also normally known for but found particularly challenging against Hamptons shooters.
According to Atwood, Cody Bailie does a lot more for us than just score. Hes our best post defender. He gets assigned to their best post player and hell continue to get better as the year goes on. With Hampton taking and making several risky long distance shots, Johnson Countys big drive proved less effective than it would have. In fact, without a few of the bulldogs many three-pointers, especially in the fourth, the final outcome may have been much different.
As it was, the Longhorns were still able to cut the lead back to nine and were poised to make a few more advances before lingering foul trouble started to have a serious effect in the fourth as both Dempsey and Bailie were forced to the bench. With those key players out and trips to the foul line increasing, Johnson Countys hard work proved fruitless in the last couple of minutes of the game.
With the Longhorns closing in, Hampton began holding, prolonging an eventual defeat that went from 46-55 to a final score of 46-64 at the buzzer. Having come on the heels of a big win over Cloudland and a huge game against Science Hill, the loss was a visible disappointment to many of the players on the team. Yet, as Coach Atwood pointed out, there is a certain amount of versatility to Johnson County as well.
Any time that you play that poorly it throws a little bit of a wrench in it, Atwood said, but I also think our kids understand that night in and night out you have to show up in East Tennessee. Its a tough league and a tough state to play in. Theres nothing but good coaches and good players.
Johnson County 46
Brian Dempsey 18
Chase Phillips 10
Cody Bailie 10
Dalton Timbs 6
Patrick South 2