'Horns use late run to top Unaka

By Matt Hill

   MOUNTAIN CITY--In a game where it was hard to get a flow going, the Johnson County boys basketball team made just enough plays to avoid the upset Saturday night.
   Sixty two fouls were called in a contest that saw the Longhorns make a late run to pull out a 78-70 victory over the Unaka Rangers at Ray Shoun Gym.
   Both teams were doing all they could to keep their big guns from fouling out, but the Longhorns persevered with a final-minute spurt.
   "Last night we had a game that was physically challenging to us," Johnson County head coach Austin Atwood said about Friday night's senior night win over Volunteer, "and we came through and played a great game. Tonight this was more mental. We had to play the style they were calling. We feel like we got two good games out of the two nights, one mentally and one physically."
   With the Longhorn starters all hampered by foul trouble, sophomore reserve post Jon Stout came up big off the bench by scoring 10 points and just being a strong presence on the offensive glass.
   "I just thought I came ready to play," Stout said. "I'm glad I came ready to play."
   The Rangers had their chances in this one. Unaka missed 11 first-half free throws, which could have made all the difference.
   "We didn't make some plays right at the end right when we needed to," Unaka head coach Donald Ensor said. "It was a three-point game with 50 seconds to go. We can harp on the free-throw shooting. For the most part we've shot it well all year. I think that's a lack of concentration. I always felt that was a concentration shot.
   "We were doing some things in our press that we hadn't done before, and our lack of concentration showed in that at times. We've got to shake it off and get our nose back to the grindstone."
   Even though the Longhorns couldn't ever pull away from Unaka, they still managed to stay ahead from early in the first quarter until the end.
   Johnson County stepped up from the charity stripe in the second half. The Longhorns made 15-of-16 free-throws on the in the final two quarters.
   Matt Cornett topped Johnson County in scoring with 22, while Tommy Short and Judd Shoun added 18 and 11, respectively.
   Rusty Chambers showed why he is a candidate for Player-of-the-Year in the Watauga Valley Conference with his 30-point performance on Saturday.
   Unaka 71
   Johnson County 58
   The Lady Rangers put on a three-point clinic in the first half, using nine treys in the first 16 minutes to put away the Lady Longhorns.
   Twin sisters Heather and Taylor combined to hit eight of the first half shots from downtown, as the Lady Rangers built a 41-23 halftime advantage.
   "We shot the ball well first half," Unaka head coach Kenneth Chambers said. "We played very good ball in the first half."
   Heather Taylor scored 17 of her 25 in Unaka's impressive first half.
   "She's a great kid," Chambers said. "She does all she can do for the team. She's a leader, her and her sister both are leaders. You couldn't ask for a better kid."
   Heather Taylor says the extra practice shooting three-point shots paid off on Saturday night.
   "That came from teamwork," Taylor said about her impressive performance. "We've been practicing and practicing on how to get whoever is shooting good to get them open, and they did a real good job of that."
   The Longhorns eventually cut the Unaka lead to eight points with five minutes to go in the game, but a late Ranger spurt eliminated any thoughts of a miraculous comeback.
   Still, Johnson County head coach Eric Crabtree was proud of his team, which is a squad that is right now missing several key players like Elena Owens to injury.
   "We fought back hard," Crabtree said. "I was proud of the girls to be down 18 at the half and come back and pull it to within eight. For the effort of that, we're just working to improve, so that in two weeks when we get to the tournament to play that tie-in game, we're ready to play.
   Julie Roberson and Kelly Taylor scored 16 and 13 points, respectively for the Lady Rangers. Nikki Davidson topped the Longhorns with 16, while Courtney Shaw added 15 for Johnson County.