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Rematch with Hampton puts Horns on top by three

In what was one of the most exciting games region wide, the Johnson County Longhorns took on their rivals, the Hampton Bulldogs, in a spectacularly close victory even though the Bulldogs have proven themselves time and again one of the most talented teams in East Tennessee this season. Having soundly beaten Johnson County earlier in the year, the upset was a milestone that will undoubtedly add to the legacy of this team.
“I bet it was a fun game to watch,” remarked Head Coach Austin Atwood.  “I’m glad I’m the coach and part of the program, but I tell you I would have liked to watch that one from the sidelines. It was all just in the resilience of our kids to keep battling, to keep playing. J.R. had zero turnovers. He’s learned the value of the basketball and knows that we have to have every possession. Cody Bailie had four fouls all the way through the third and fourth quarter. Playing without fouling was big.”
The game was tight from start to finish. The Longhorns started off a little sluggish falling behind 2-6, but a long range shot from Dalton Timbs put three more on the board and with the addition of a layup by fellow senior Brian Dempsey, the game tied at eight. Johnson County took a short lead, 14-13, following a basket by Chase Phillips, but in the last couple of minutes before the second, Hampton took it back to finish up 18-22.
Even holding the Bulldogs one quarter seemed like a feat with an extremely talented lineup of players like former Johnson County student Tristan Robinson, yet the Longhorns proved that they have an exceptional group of athletes as well, offensively anchored by players like Brian Dempsey who managed to put up 30 points by the end of the night.  “To have 30 against that is really something,” Atwood said about Dempsey’s results.  “That’s a complete team, a great point guard, great shooters like Stanley and Tristan Robinson. I thought he did a super job offensively. We had to double guard him. He got to the free throw line a lot, but Brian is left handed and hard to guard anyway. He has great body control for a 6’4’’ guy.”
Dempsey was himself very pleased with the outcome, relating that a prediction halfway made in jest before the game ultimately became a reality. “ I talked to Coach’s son before the game,” Dempsey began. “He couldn’t be here tonight so I talked to him on the phone and I asked him ‘how many points do you want me to get tonight? How many points do I need to win?’ He said 30, so I said ‘alright I’ll try to drop 30.’ I just never would have believed I actually got it. To help out a young player who is rising up and to be an inspiration, that’s very rewarding.”
Uncanny predictions aside, Dempsey credited most of his key scoring to the expert screens set up by his teammates. Had those players not been in place, most of Dempsey’s shots under the goal would not have been possible, a fact he readily admitted. “First of all they all faceguard me,” Dempsey said. “It didn’t matter if it was Stanley, Tristan, or McClain. In face guarding me they’re trying to take the ball out of my hands as much as possible. In practice coach teaches you that if you want to be able to get the ball you have to set good screens. I knew the plays that were called and I knew that I would get a screen or that if they overplayed I could get an easy layup, especially if they’re getting lazy on defense or after five or six possessions continuous where they’re getting tired. I can just work off anything around my team as long as they have the screen or have the ball up high and I can just clear out and take my time.”
The Longhorns kept the game close all the way to the half, finishing up the second trailing by just two points 30-32. With Phillips, Bailie, Speed, and Timbs all adding baskets into the mix, Johnson County was once again able to assume control early in the third. Dempsey continued to be a prominent player, landing two back to back plus ones, but it was actually point guard J.R. Speed that made the final couple of buckets to end the period with a tenuous lead at 46-45.
Although fast paced all the way through the game, the fourth was truly the best part of the show as both teams fought harder and faster in an effort to get the upper hand. The match up tied at 49 early on, but with Dempsey picking up a critical offensive rebound from a shot by Phillips the Longhorns pulled ahead yet again. This back and forth action lasted all the way down to the final two minutes, when Phillips picked up a missed Hampton three-pointer to push Johnson County to a 61-57 lead.
The Bulldogs managed to make a couple of final shots before the clock ran out, cutting it very close at one point 62-61 with just five seconds left. In those tense final moments, Johnson County regained the ball and Hampton fouled Senior Dalton Timbs who aced the last two foul shots of the game to finish up with an historic 64-61 win.
Considering that Hampton was 22 and 2 on the season, with both of those losses going to teams far larger and higher ranking, Johnson County managed to accomplish something that very few teams have been able to do this year. “The difference was in becoming better competitors,” said Coach Atwood. “We’re valuing every possession. We’re not careless with the basketball. We’ve got to be a little stronger. I don’t think we made a free throw all night, but when you can shoot free throws that poorly and win that’s a sign of a good defensive team.”
Final Score:
Johnson County 64
Hampton 61
Brian Dempsey 30
Chase Phillips 16
Dalton Timbs 12
J.R. Speed 4
Cody Bailie 2