The Lady Longhorns continued to push the boundaries of just how close a game could get without ultimately pulling out a win as they took on the Unicoi Lady Blue Devils on their own turf last Friday night in Erwin. As has been the ever-present trend this season, Johnson County kept their opponents in their sights throughout the game, falling behind late in the third but then battling back again in the fourth.
The real intensity of the game ultimately waited until the very last minute, when an essential three-point bucket from Brooke Brown with only 10 seconds on the clock left the score at 50-51. Drawing each tick of the clock out to the fullest, the Lady Longhorns managed to foul Unicoi one last time, and with both shots missing their mark, Johnson County got the miraculous chance to land what would literally be a last second shot. Even miracles can sometimes be thwarted and as Brown made a clean drive to the goal, she made the critical error of passing off the ball rather than taking the shot. Even then there was chance as Kourtney Tolley made an effort to get the ball to the net, just missing what would have been the game winning basket.
Despite the turn of events, Coach Whittemore was still proud of his teams effort against an opponent they have not beaten in eight years, and never on their own court. It is tough, Whittemore said. There have been a lot of close games, but as far as Im concerned theres not a tougher place to win at than Unicoi. Ive been lucky enough to do it a few times, but these girls told me after the game that they had never been closer than 15 or 20 points. This is the best these girls have ever played against Unicoi. Heres the thing; Brooke Brown led us in scoring. We wouldnt have had that opportunity at the end if Brooke hadnt drilled that 3. Anybody that wants to criticize Brooke Brown needs to know that we wouldnt have even been in that position with a chance to win the game had it not been for Brooke Brown. Im proud of my girls. We fell short again tonight but we dont quit, we dont give up. Ive got to feel like these things are happening for a reason. I just think were going to have this opportunity again and when we do were going to do the right thing next time and well learn from our mistakes.
The set up for the dramatic ending began with a Johnson County drive early in the fourth. Starting off down by eight points at 36-44 a combined effort from Brown and teammates Sarah Swift and Brionna Reece cut the lead to three at 43-46 in just under two minutes of game time. Fouls became increasingly more important as the quarter wore on, with Unicoi climbing once again only to be caught up by Mary Taylor and Brandy Dugger at the free-throw line.
By the one-minute mark, Johnson County was trailing by two at 47-49, but with a couple of costly fouls the Lady Blue Devils jumped up to 51. It was then that Brown landed her game changing three-pointer, ultimately making every move from then on a critical drive to the finish line. Coming away only one point away from a victory, it is easy to pick apart the various mistakes and decisions that could have led to a win, but to his credit Coach Whittemore was focused on just how much his team has improved even if it isnt reflected in their record.
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