Strong start keys 'Horns

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   Most people when they're angry take their frustrations out on somebody. For the first 12 minutes of the boys contest at Van Huss- White Gym on Tuesday night, the Hampton Bulldogs had to take the wrath of a fired-up Johnson County Longhorn team.
   The Longhorns jumped out to a 23-point second quarter advantage, and held off a late Hampton threat to take a 58-45 win over the 'Dogs.
   "We really wanted to come in here and make a statement," Johnson County point guard Judd Shoun said.
   At least for the better part of the first half, Johnson County did just that.
   The Longhorns played with an intensity that you would expect from top-notch basketball teams. There might have been a couple of reasons for that.
   For one thing, Johnson County and Hampton are big Watauga Conference rivals between neighboring schools. But the main reason for the added intensity, even though the players and coaches didn't talk about it, might have been because of a recent newspaper article by a local sportswriter criticizing the Johnson County basketball program.
   Johnson County responded by putting on a spectacular show in the first six minutes of the contest. Propelled by a couple of steals by Michael Lipford, a dunk by Tommy Short, and hot shooting by Matt Cornett, the Longhorns led 17-2 with 2:15 to go in the first quarter.
   By the 3:55 mark of the second quarter, Johnson County held a 34-11 advantage over the Bulldogs.
   It was really the first quarter that set the tone for the contest, but Lipford, who led the Longhorns with 17 points, thinks they can even improve on the incredible start.
   "I think that's one of the better quarters we've played all year, but I don't think that's as good as we've played," he said. "We were just fired up and wanted to make a statement."
   That aggression showed by the Longhorns mounted up in the foul totals, as almost everybody that saw a lot of action started getting into foul trouble.
   The Bulldogs took advantage of this, and started cutting into the Longhorn lead.
   Propelled by strong play off the bench by Jacob Moss, the Bulldogs were down only 41-27 after three quarters. The 'Dogs got to within 10 points at 41-31 early in the fourth before a 6-0 run by Johnson County finished off any hopes of a victory for Hampton.
   The Bulldogs definitely didn't give up after facing Johnson County's wrath, and were proud of that following the game.
   "I'm tickled too death," Hampton head coach Bud Hazelwood said when asked if he was pleased with how the team didn't throw in the towel. "We just stuck ourselves in a hole."
   Hazelwood admitted that Johnson County played an unbelievable first quarter.
   "They shot well, and times we were in pretty good position," he said. "They just took it to us, and we helped them out there by throwing three or four away. We just dug ourselves in a hole. After the first quarter, I felt we played right with them. We might have even outplayed them after the last part of the second quarter."
   Cornett finished with 12, while Short and Shoun also hit double figures with 10 for Johnson County.
   Greg Osborne tallied 13 to lead the Bulldogs, while Jacob Moss finished with eight off the bench.
   Johnson County head coach Austin Atwood couldn't have been more pleased with the first half intensity and shooting his team displayed.
   "Our intensity on the defensive end is always there," he said. "On the offensive end is where I question my kids sometimes not really being tough, just smart.
   "We shot it as good as we had all year. We shot it well. I really didn't feel like we rebounded as good as we had all year, but we did shoot it good. And we executed a few man-to-man plays really well."
   The Bulldogs and Longhorns will each tackle the top teams in the Watauga Conference on Friday night. Hampton hosts Sullivan Central, while Johnson County will entertain Elizabethton.
   GAME NOTES:
   * Hampton was missing three players on Tuesday, most notably Corey McKinney. McKinney suffered a concussion Monday night against Elizabethton.
   * Johnson County also had several players out due to sickness, most notably Adam Johnson and Jason Poteet, both of whom have started at times this season.