By Beth Cox
The game against Sullivan South at Sullivan South in Kingsport Friday, December 6 was a hard-fought battle for the Longhorns against the best team in the conference. Coach Austin Atwood knew it would be a bitter fight until the end, but he knew his team was up to the task.
Sullivan South was out for revenge against the Longhorns. The memory of last year’s games was enough to make sure the Rebels got the lead early. With the Longhorns in a rebuilding year as compared to most players returning for South, Atwood looked to his seniors to lead the team. Lucas Phillips and Michael Oxentine accepted the challenge and played with heart and soul. Atwood knew Phillips and Oxentine were good leaders, but he had not seen it very much since the start of the season.
Atwood explained his discussion with the top players, “I told Lucas that he needed to be a leader on the court; he must have been listening because he far surpassed my expectations. Phillips could not miss Friday night; he went away with a personal best of 43 points.”
Atwood did not stop with Phillips when he said, “Michael knew what I expected of him, and he did it.”
Oxentine had nineteen points and eleven rebounds for the night. Seniors Darren Cunningham and Clayton Cross contributed a point each for the night. The veteran coach also did something a little different, as he went straight to his freshmen and sophomores and rotated them out. “This is a restructuring year for us,” Atwood said. “Our bench needs the experience, so I’m going to try to use them when I can. We have a lot of talent on our team, and we are going to need everyone.”
Freshman Peyton Pavusek played strong and banked two points for the night.
Sullivan South outscored the Longhorns significantly, but it was a great opportunity for the Longhorns to get in and get tough with the best. Defensively, the Longhorns were fast and able to cover inside the perimeter, but South has strong outside shooters, and many points came from big three-pointt plays.
Atwood wanted to put the Sullivan South game behind him and focus on the busy week ahead.
“We have tough teams ahead of us for next week,” he said. “I want us to improve every game, and hopefully pull off some crucial wins.