'Horns slip up on EHS

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   While Elizabethton is searching for some answers in its late-season slip, Johnson County found a way to overcome a dismal year by knocking off the Cyclones 60-49 at Treadway Gym Tuesday night.
   The Longhorns have trailed in the Watauga Conference from the start of the season, but for Elizabethton, it has been a year where it's basically been in the thick of the hunt.
   "We didn't come out ready to play and I'll take the blame. There is really no excuse for what happened tonight," said Elizabethton coach Tony Hardin. "We need to get things turned around, and it's not that we're not physical enough, but it's the mental part that we're lacking right now. We'll re-evaluate and try to get back on track for the district tournament."
   On Tuesday night, you'd never of guessed which team was the favorite or which was the underdog, as Johnson County came out to dominate the first-half action.
   The Longhorns came out ready to play during the first period, which led them to an 18-6 advantage after going on a late 18-1 run.
   Brandon Blevins score the first three points of the contest by hitting a free throw and converting a lay-up off a Longhorn turnover, but the Cyclones went silent the remainder of the period.
   Johnson County got its offense rolling with a foul-line jumper from Judd Shoun and three-point goal by Chris McCloud.
   "We decided to come out and play like we were down by 10 instead of starting at an even slate," said Shoun. "Once we came out with that kind of mind set and attitude, then we really picked it up. With five games left we have to step it up because it's now or never."
   The momentum continued to build after a nice tap pass from Justin Genaille to Frank Icenhour for a three-point play inside.
   Gary Evans knocked down a three-point basket with 30 seconds left to give the 'Horns a 14-point lead.
   Johnson County picked up where it left off in the second period, as Shoun opened the quarter with a three-point field goal.
   "We have to step up against these good teams so we can build our confidence going into the district tournament," said Shoun. "We usually blow leads when we have one like this, but we kept everybody on the same page and pulled through."
   The Longhorns continued to increase the margin with a couple of late field goals from Jon Stout to take a 33-15 lead into halftime.
   "You dig yourself a hole, and then you think you have to score and get out of control and make mistakes," said Hardin. "It's the mental mistakes that we made, and we didn't make a lot of good decisions tonight."
   Elizabethton did a better job in the second half on both ends of the floor, as its defense applied more pressure, and its offense started to click.
   The Cyclones knocked down four three-point goals during the third period, with Lester Bailey leading the way by draining two of them.
   Bailey finished the evening as the Cyclones' leading scorer with 15 points -- all of them coming during the second half.
   A three-point basket from Derrick Nave with 35 seconds left in the third period cut the Johnson County lead down to 43-32 with one quarter to go.
   "We shot the ball well in the first half, and then our offense became a little stagnated in the second half, but it was a good overall effort from our kids," said Johnson County coach Austin Atwood. "We had some big rebounds and our defense made stops all night."
   Elizabethton turned the wick up on defense in the final period, as several steals resulted into fast-break points.
   The Cyclones trimmed the deficit all the way down to five with just over two minutes left in regulation, when Bailey sank two free throws after taking a hard foul off the drive along the baseline.
   Several turnovers and missed shots down the stretch stopped the Cyclone comeback from happening, though.
   Johnson County managed to hold on for the victory in the final minutes and elude another heartbreaking loss, which has plagued them several times this season.
   "It has to give us a boost. These kids still know that we're at the bottom but we're climbing our way back up," said Atwood. "I'm pretty pleased right now and we'll try to keep on getting better and improving every night."