Johnson County upends Unicoi

By Doug Janz

   ERWIN -- It was a battle to stay out of the Watauga Conference basement, and Johnson County did just that.
   The Longhorn boys defeated Unicoi County 65-56 on Tuesday night, bolting early to a 10-point lead and holding that pretty much the entire game. It kept them in a good spot in the Elizabethton sweepstakes -- that is, the contest to see who won't have to play the powerful Cyclones in the first round of the district tournament.
   The 'Horns are 5-7 overall, 2-3 in Watauga play, while Unicoi County dropped to 8-7, 0-5. A Blue Devil win would have tied the teams at for last place at 1-4.
   "Our backs were against the wall," said Johnson County's Tommy Short, who scored 14. "This was a big win for us. We don't want to play Elizabethton."
   In the girls' game, Unicoi County prevailed 55-41 in what was a tight contest through three quarters.
   The boys had no such lull. Short had 11 points in the first half as they forged a 12-point halftime lead.
   Despite Unicoi's comeback efforts, Johnson County held on, making 13 of 17 free throws in the fourth period.
   Matt Cornett scored 16 points and got six rebounds and Judd Shoun had 13 points, including 7 for 9 at the free throw line, mostly in the last period.
   "One of the keys," said Longhorn head Austin Atwood, "was we got to rest Cornett, Short and Shoun for two, three minutes at a time, and when the other boys came in they didn't turn the ball over 50 times. So even though we didn't build our lead, we were able to hold onto it."
   Cornett didn't have one of his explosive offensive games but he still gave the Blue Devils fits. Anytime he missed a shot he hit the boards hard for the offensive rebound, and his aggressive play was hard for Unicoi County to counter.
   "He's got more heart than anybody else," Short said. "He goes after it."
   "He's a tremendous athlete, a great scorer," said UCHS head coach David Whaley. "He can post up or put it on the floor and take you off the dribble, and that's a tough combination to stop."
   The win came despite a remarkable second half from Unicoi County's Nick Garland, the slashing forward who scored 28 overall, 21 in the second half, and 15 in the fourth quarter alone.
   Garland shot 10 for 13 from the field and 8 for 9 at the line. Teammate Chris Brown had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
   "They don't miss many shots," Garland said of the 'Horns. "And they rebound the offensive boards the best we've seen, except for Elizabethton."
   The 'Horns held Unicoi County to 1-for-9 shooting from 3-point range.
   Unicoi County 55, Johnson County 41
   Jessica Townsend had 15 points and Andrea McQueen scored 14 for the Lady Longhorns in what was a valiant effort that ran out of steam.
   Just before the end of the third quarter the Devils led by only two, but Unicoi's Kim Anders drove for a high-flying score in the final three seconds, and Unicoi County carried the momentum into the fourth period with 10-1 run that sealed the outcome.
   "I think it was just a matter of numbers," said UCHS coach Glenn Fisher. "I think we just wore them down."
   The Devils were bigger and deeper off the bench, so it took a lot of effort to keep close. The rebounding edge for Unicoi County was 43-19.
   "I told them all night that we wanted to play under control, get four or five passes, run the offense and make Unicoi County do that, too," said
   Johnson County coach Eric Crabtree. "We did that for about three quarters.
   " Then I think they outmanned us late. When you play six girls you're gonna get tired."
   Johnson County fell to 4-8 overall and 0-5 in the league despite some close contests. The fourth quarter seems to be the downfall most of the time. The Devils outscored the Longhorns 16-6 in the fourth on this night.
   "I really thought we played well; I was pleased with our performance," Crabtree said, "except with the rebounding. And I thought Jessica had a breakout game for us scoring."
   Courtney Shaw had four assists for the 'Horns and Elena Owens had six rebounds.
   Unicoi County is 13-2 overall, 4-1 in the Watauga Conference.
   Anders led the Devils with 16 points, 10 rebounds and six steals, while Deanna Rice had six steals and nine points.