Longhorns rally past Blue Devils

By Matt Hill

   ERWIN--After a 16-0 Unicoi County run put Johnson County down by 10 points midway through the third quarter, the Longhorns could have easily folded the towel.
   Instead, they wiped the slate clean and produced a marvelous comeback.
   Johnson County rallied from behind to knock off the pesky Blue Devils 58-49 at Unicoi County High School.
   The Longhorns were kept afloat early by Longhorn point guard Judd Shoun, and then used his heroics in the fourth quarter to earn a victory.
   Shoun finished the night with 26 points, but the Blue Devils did a good job of holding the rest of the Longhorn squad in check.
   Unicoi County has had a hard time putting points on the board all season, but the Blue Devils have been among the best in the Watauga Conference at defense.
   Shoun thought the Longhorns found out Tuesday night just how good a defensive team Unicoi County is.
   "Their 2-3 was great," Shoun said. "I didn't know their defense was that good, and I don't think anybody on this team did. We went in there overlooking these guys, and once we came out in the first half, we realized we shouldn't have overlooked these guys. Their 2-3 is really good, it's one of the best we've seen this year."
   After the big spurt at the end of the second quarter and into the third quarter by the Blue Devils, Johnson County head coach Austin Atwood was concerned about the prospects of a Longhorn comeback.
   "Being down eight to Unicoi or being down eight to Happy Valley is like being down 15 or 20 to anybody else, because of the pace of the game they make you play," he said. "We talked about that at halftime. We couldn't cut it to three or two and then think we were all right. We had to get up by seven or eight before we could let up, and they still hit big shots."
   The turning point in the contest might have been during the 16-0 run when Unicoi County head coach John English argued a foul call and was called for a technical of his own.
   Shoun and Matt Cornett combined to go 4-of-4 from the foul line during that stretch, and the Blue Devil lead was cut to 31-25 with 4:45 to go in the third quarter.
   The Blue Devils still held a 39-33 advantage early in the fourth quarter, but that lead quickly vanished.
   The Longhorns kept getting to the foul line, and that free-throw shooting propelled Johnson County to cut the deficit to 41-39 with 6:29 left in regulation.
   Johnson County then took the lead for good when Michael Lipford, who scored eight of his 11 points in the final frame, nailed a trey that made it a 42-41 Longhorn advantage.
   Key defensive stops by the 'Horns, combined with sharp shooting from the field and from the charity stripe, gave Johnson County a 51-45 edge with 1:25 to go. Johnson County never looked back.
   Shoun poured in 12 of his 26 in the fourth quarter, when the Longhorns were desperately needing it.
   The Johnson County offense definitely struggled in the first three quarters, but the Longhorns did outscore Unicoi 25-13 in the final frame.
   "We knew we just had to slow it down," Shoun said. "They were playing a lot faster, and scoring on a lot of fast breaks. We knew we were going to have to slow down and set something up, and get a lot more people involved. We tried to work it down low, and get our big man involved. That's how we came out of the deficit."
   Even though the Longhorns came into the contest heavily favored after an impressive win over Hampton and a close shave against Tennessee's fifth-ranked Class AA team in Elizabethton, they found themselves kind of the underdogs after being on the short end of a 16-0 run. But Atwood was very pleased with how his squad responded.
   "To credit our team and what I feel good about is when we got down eight or nine, we just cut back into it slowly, and we didn't go crazy," he said. "We hit a few big shots and made a few defensive plays. Mitchell Harper came in off the bench tonight, and he made the two key plays."
   Short joined Shoun and Lipford in double figures with 11 points on the night. The Longhorns went 16-of-23 from the charity stripe.
   Josh Hensley topped Unicoi County with 13 points. Michael Price added 11 for the Blue Devils.
   Unicoi County 70
   Johnson County 20
   The Lady Blue Devils outscored the Lady Longhorns 43-4 in the second half in what was a clinic by Unicoi County.
   Unicoi led 27-16 at halftime, but didn't give up a bucket in the first 11 minutes of the second half.
   Elizabeth Weaver topped Unicoi County with 18 points.
   Both Longhorn teams will be at home Friday against Volunteer, which will be senior night at Ray Shoun Gym.