Johnson County charges to victory over Hampton

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   MOUNTAIN CITY- Johnson County head coach Austin Atwood has mentioned several times after games this season that his team has yet to play to its potential.
   Atwood was singing a slightly different tune on Friday night at Ray Shoun Gym.
   The Longhorns used a strong defensive effort and a balanced scoring attack to defeat a much-improved Hampton Bulldog squad, 64-46 in what might have been Johnson County's best game of the 2002-2003 season.
   "I'm pleased with them tonight," Atwood said. "I'm not pleased with our free-throw shooting, but I'm pleased with our rebounding and pleased with just our continuity with the way the flow of the game went for us in the second half."
   Hampton head coach Bud Hazelwood thought Johnson County's trap frustrated his young team, and prevented Hampton from cutting into the Longhorn lead.
   "With their aggressiveness and them putting Tommy Short up there on the point with his long arms, we just didn't do a good job attacking it," he said. "We just threw it to them."
   Johnson County's Adam Johnson came in off the bench to really contribute in the second half. In addition to being a presence on the boards, Johnson scored nine fourth quarter points to help the Longhorns ice the game.
   Atwood thought Johnson was a big key in the second half.
   "He came in sick," Atwood said. "We talked about not playing him. He said he wanted to play, and he would let me know if he needed to come out. He controlled the paint tonight."
   This is Johnson's first year of varsity basketball after being the school's starting quarterback on the football team for two seasons.
   He seems to have adjusted well to the hardwood.
   "If you haven't done something in awhile, it's going to take you awhile to get back into it," Johnson said. "But through hard work, we've come together as a team, and I've been able to help us."
   The score probably didn't indicate how close this game was. It was around single digits for most of the contest, but a key stretch in third quarter might have done the Bulldogs in.
   Hampton only trailed 28-27 with 5:15 to go in third quarter. The Bulldogs didn't score the rest of the frame, and Johnson County led 37-27 after three quarters.
   Hampton definitely showed at times like it was a team that had really improved since the first of the year. Propelled by three Josh Moss treys, the Bulldogs led 14-9 after one period.
   Hazelwood was disappointed that the lead had dwindled away at halftime, as the Longhorns were up 26-20 at the break.
   "We were up," Hazelwood said. "We're one of those teams I guess that keeps saying inexperience. We've got 12 games under our belt, but Mountain City has got four starters back from last year. We're one of these teams when things are going well, we're a pretty good team. But when things are going bad, I guess it's because we don't have a leader. We're starving too death for a leader I guess."
   Despite the victory of Friday night, Atwood had nothing but praise for Hampton's team.
   "They played well," Atwood said of the Bulldogs. "Buddy has done a good job with them. Buddy has done a good job of getting them ready and getting them better. At tournament time, that's a team I'm not going to want to play.
   The Longhorns were led in scoring by Matt Cornett, who netted 16 on the night.
   "He had some assists, had some rebounds, had some steals, had some points," Atwood said. "That's the best Matt has played all year."
   Michael Lipford, Short and Judd Shoun also hit double digits, scoring 12, 11 and 10, respectively for Johnson County.
   Josh Moss topped the Bulldogs in the scoring department with 16.
   "He played well early and played defense well early," Hazelwood said. He got us off to a good start, and he needs to do that."
   The Longhorns, who improve to 8-6 overall and 2-1 in the Watauga, will travel to Elizabethton on Tuesday for the much-anticipated contest with the powerful Cyclones.
   Hampton (4-8, 1-2 in the Watauga) also faces a big rival in its next battle, as it will take on Unaka Monday night.
   While Atwood left with a lot of respect for Hampton, Hazelwood was highly complimentary of Johnson County.
   "Austin has got a good ball club," Hazelwood said. "I picked them second in the league in the preseason picks, and I still believe that. They're very good and they're well-coached. They're experienced and have size. Judd's the best guard I've seen this year."