By Tim Chambers
Johnson County needed a win to keep pace with Elizabethton for the Three Rivers Conference championship, and their opponent was no pushover. The Longhorns had to fight and claw their way against Sullivan East but finally came away with a 74-60 home win.
It was the perfect setting inside of a jam-packed Ray Shoun Gymnasium when the two teams prepared for battle on Coach Austin Atwood Court.
The Horns led 16-12 after one and held a 40-33 halftime advantage. The majority of the damage came from long range as Gavin Reece and Blake Atwood combined to hit seven treys.
Atwood had 15 points by intermission, and Reece added 12, all from behind the three-point arc on 4-of-4 shooting.
Head coach Austin Atwood pointed to his team ’s toughness as a key to their win.
That’s the toughest that I’ve ever seen our guys play, said Atwood. “We’ve got to get better finishing drives after teams make contact with us. Blake had 36 and could have had 46 if he finishes three or four of those drives. I thought our quickness was a key down the stretch and the three’s that Gavin Reece hit in the second quarter were huge. We didn’t play great, but we found a way to play through a couple of those struggles. Zach Eller had a great defensive game, and Lucas Phillips ran the floor well to get us some easy baskets. I can’t say enough of how proud I was for the way that Troy Arnold battled Davis on the board. He’s eight inches shorter, but he plays with a ton of heart. You can’t measure with a stat how much he means to our team.”
East pecks away at the deficit
The Patriots used some red-hot shooting from Trey Lowe to get back in the game during the third quarter. Hs three-ball cut what once was a 12-point advantage down to one at 45-44 capping off a 9-0 Patriots run.
Dylan Bartley would tie the game at 46 all with a basket, but the Horns closed the period getting deuces from Michael Oxentine and Atwood to lead 50-46 going into the fourth.
Horns hang on for the win
The game became a slugfest with Johnson County landing the most punches down the stretch. Atwood scored 15 points in the final eight minutes including 7-of-8 from the foul line.
The Horns provided fans with a textbook fast break to go up by ten that sealed the deal. Atwood grabbed a rebound then passed it to Eller who hit a streaking Phillips underneath for a layup without the ball ever touching the floor.
East sliced it back to five, but Atwood and Reece got it back over double digits by knocking down some clutch free throws along with Phillips.
Atwood had a monster game amassing 36 points and ten rebounds. Reece added 14 points, and Phillips contributed 12. Eller ended the game with seven steals, and Reece dished out four assists. Arnold and Phillips grabbed six rebounds apiece.
Lowe topped the Patriots with 16. Davis and Dylan Bartley tallied 12 points
each. Davis also led the
Pats in rebounding with 12. Adam Dawson just missed double figures with nine points.
Reece said the Horns still have a lot to prove.
“Nobody gave us a chance to win the league in the preseason,” said Reece. “They picked us to finish fifth and no higher than fourth. We want to prove everyone wrong because we’ve got a good basketball team. We’ve all played together for years.”
SULLIVAN EAST (60)
Lowe 15, Davis 12, Dy. Bartley 12, Du. Bartley 7, Dawson 9, Hare 3, Johnson 2.
JOHNSON CO. (74)
Atwood 36, Reece 14, Phillips 12, Eller 4, Arnold 2, Oxentine 6, Cross 0
Sulivan E. 12 21 13 14 -60
JCHS 16 24 10 24 -74
3-point goals—SE 8 (Lowe 3, Dawson 2, Hare 1, Dy. Bartley 1, Du. Bartley 1) JC 10 (Atwood 4, Reece 4, Philips 2)