Longhorns weather Cyclones’ comeback storm, 65-56

Published 9:40 am Friday, March 1, 2019

The Johnson County Longhorns just made the right shots at the right times Thursday during the Region 1-AA semifinals against Elizabethton at Happy Valley High School.

Behind 34 points from Blake Atwood, the Longhorns fended off Elizabethton, 65-56.

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“The good thing about him (Blake Atwood) is that he makes everybody around him better because everyone is guarding him,” said Johnson County head coach Austin Atwood. “The reason we won tonight is that Zach Eller, Gavin Reece, and Lucas Phillips made buckets. Troy Arnold also defended their post guy from start to finish.”

The Longhorns will now face Greeneville in the region championships tonight at 7 p.m. The winner will get to host a TSSAA Class AA State Sectional contest.

“We talked about how we don’t want our guys to be satisfied,” said Atwood. “We want to keep moving on and you don’t get a special team like this very often.”

It was a tough, season-ending loss for the Cyclones who went 23-7 this season and rolled to a District 1-AA title.

“We just came up short at a chance to play for the region title, and that stings,” said Elizabethton head coach Lucas Honeycutt. “We lost to a good team. I think a lot of people doubted Johnson at the first of the year. I think they went on a run of 19 games in a row. We are a team that stepped in the middle of that and made that an even longer streak. It was just a great effort by them.

“We started the game a little shell shocked,” added Honeycutt. “But our kids battled back in a way that many teams don’t battle back. Took the lead there and was even had the lead late. It just came down to big buckets.”

For the Longhorns, those big buckets came in the fourth quarter. After the Cyclones cut JC’s lead to 50-49, ‘Horns Lucas Phillips and Gavin Reece knocked down a pair of 3-points to jump JC out to a 56-51 lead. From there, the Longhorns outscored EHS 9-5 down the stretch to hold for a win.

“I just thought we defended really well throughout the game,” said Atwood. “We went through a stretch there when we got tired. Blake took a bad shot and it let them back in the game a little bit. Our kids just battled. I told our kids that at this time of the year, it isn’t about Xs and 0s anymore. It is about who wants it the most.”

In the second quarter, the Cyclones trailed as much 22-9 behind the Longhorns. By the half, however, Elizabethton had made it a six-point game, 25-19, by outscoring JC 7-2 towards the end of the half behind a 3-ball and a pair of foul shots from Nico Ashley.

By the end of the third, EHS held a 40-38 lead. A couple of big 3-pointers from EHS’s Eric Wilson, one of which resulted in a 4-point, and-1 play, gave the Cyclones momentum. Elizabethton rattled off eight unanswered points on the back end of the third to take the lead.

For Elizabethton, Ashley led with 14 while Wilson finished with 12. EHS’s Evan Perkins had eight while Bryson Rollins and Parker Hughes both had six apiece.