Cougars get past 'Horns

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   Johnson County played one of its better games of the year on Tuesday, and on most nights would have been sitting in good shape.
   The only problem was Sullivan Central might have played its best game as well.
   The Cougars broke open a tight game in the final minutes to take a 69-56 victory over the Longhorns at the Cougar Cage.
   "I was pleased with the kids' effort," Johnson County head coach Austin Atwood said. "They did a little better job sticking to a game plan, except for eight or 10 possessions in the whole game. But besides that I was pleased with the way we played. I really felt like we worked the boards hard."
   But despite the Longhorns staying close until the final couple of minutes, they couldn't stop the Cougars when it mattered the most.
   The Longhorns were within five points at 56-51 with 4:56 to go in the game, but some big buckets by Central and key defensive stops down the stretch doomed the boys from Mountain City on Tuesday night.
   Johnson County prevented the Cougars from jumping out to a huge lead, but it couldn't get any closer than four points in the third or fourth quarter.
   "Every time we would make a run and get it to six or eight, one of their players would just make a great play," Atwood said.
   Central always had a player shooting the lights out during the contest.
   Joe Brown propelled the Cougars to a 34-28 halftime lead by scoring 14 first-half points on four three-point shots.
   In the second half, it was Matt Dunford that stepped up. Dunford scored all 13 of his points in the second half.
   Overall, Central hit eight treys on the evening.
   Atwood thought depth was a big key to Central earning the season sweep of the Longhorns.
   "I feel like we have got to play some more people," he said. "I've got to get my confidence in a couple of other players, just stick them in and give my guys a little bit of rest. 5-for-5 we're as good as them. 8-for-8 we're not.
   The Longhorn quartet of Matt Cornett, Michael Lipford, Judd Shoun and Tommy Short all hit double figures. Cornett led the way with 19, Lipford poured in 12, Shoun netted 11, and Short added 10 for Johnson County.
   Cornett, who seemed inspired by the hostile Central crowd, did a lot of his damage in the fourth quarter. His two baskets midway through the frame cut a 10-point Central advantage down to five, and put the Longhorns back into a position to win the basketball game.
   It was a fine effort by Lipford, as his coach was pleased with the junior.
   "He's definitely a role player for us," Atwood said. "He's a defensive stopper. Now he dislocated his man a couple of times, and he gets caught up in the game a little bit. He didn't get to play a whole lot last year, so this is big for him. I really like Michael. He gives effort every night."
   The Longhorns, now 4-4 in the Watauga Conference, will be back in action Friday night at Happy Valley.
   Girls
   Sullivan Central 69
   Johnson County 48
   A three-pointer in the opening minute by Nikki Davidson looked like a good omen for Johnson County. But a six-minute drought after that by the Lady Longhorns set the tone for the night.
   A 15-0 run by the Cougars quickly erased a 3-2 Johnson County advantage. By halftime, Sullivan Central was ahead 38-19.
   Turnovers and defensive lapses did Johnson County in during the first half, as the Lady Cougars already had two players in double figures at the intermission.
   "We've just got to be mentally tough," Johnson County head coach Eric Crabtree said. "We came out and got manhandled. I said we had to be strong with the ball, and we were not strong with it. The referees kind of thought that since we weren't strong with it they would let them manhandle us. If we had been strong with the ball, it would have been a non-issue. We weren't strong with the ball, and that created turnovers early."
   Johnson County kept the game from becoming an even bigger blowout, as it was only outscored 31-29 in the second half.
   "Once we settled down, you look at the whole rest of the game, we made spurts at times," Crabtree said. "But we got manhandled defensively. We let them score at will."
   Kristi Moody led Sullivan Central with 21 points. Ryann Tillman topped Johnson County with 12.
   The Lady Longhorns will also take on Happy Valley Friday at Bayless Gym, but that will be an in-school contest.