'Horns look to move on to State

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF

   MOUNTAIN CITY- For the second time in the last few days, the Johnson County Longhorns will be looking to make history tonight.
   They've already forgotten about the last attempt.
   The Longhorns hope to bounce back after coming up just short in the attempt to win their first regional title in 19 years when they travel to Knox Fulton for a substate contest.
   Tipoff is at 7 p.m.
   Johnson County lost a 14-point fourth quarter lead, and had to settle for second place last Thursday night against Elizabethton in the Region 1-AA Tournament, but this is the game that actually matters when you look at it from a broader perspective.
   Tonight, a trip to Murfreesboro for the TSSAA State Tournament is on the line. It would be Johnson County's first trip to the state since the 83-84 season.
   According to Johnson County head coach Austin Atwood, tonight is a new night for the Longhorns.
   "That's over," Atwood said about the 55-49 loss to Elizabethton.
   "We're not thinking about that. It just didn't work out. Things work out for a reason. We're just saying that it worked out to our advantage. We don't know how yet, but somehow it did."
   Johnson County senior forward Matt Cornett also wants to move on and focus on the task at hand.
   "Thursday night, we're just putting that behind us." Cornett said. "We had a horrible fourth quarter. We played three decent quarters. It wasn't anything near a perfect game, but we played three good quarters. We had a letdown from inexperience, and definitely didn't get the calls.
   "But that's behind us and the real thing we're focusing on is Monday. I don't think we can be beat. We're peaking at the right time. Nobody knows us down there, the officials don't know us. I think we have as good a chance as anybody of going on to the state tournament."
   When the Longhorns take the floor in Knoxville tonight, it will be against an opponent they're a little familiar with.
   Johnson County (20-12) has played the Region 2-AA champions before. Fulton defeated the Longhorns by over 20 points in the Knox Bearden tournament during Christmas break.
   But Johnson County senior post Adam Johnson says this is a different Longhorn team.
   "We're a whole different team now," Johnson said. "We have to control the tempo, and not get in a running game with them. Our coach will get us in a good preparation for the game. I'm not worried about that."
   In Fulton's 59-47 victory over Alcoa, the Falcons had several players step up, including Tournament MVP James Harris, Raushaun Reeves, Tony Cooper and Jack Whestel.
   "Jody Wright, the coach, does a great job," Atwood said. "Jody has been there a long time. He's been in a lot of substate games. They're very athletic. They hit the boards hard. They have a lot of people that we're going to have to guard."
   The Longhorns will be prepared for Fulton since they have played them, but Atwood knows the Falcons will not take Johnson County for granted just because they have already beaten the boys from Mountain City.
   "Jody is way too good of a coach," Atwood said. "He knows when it comes down to this time of year anything can happen. They definitely won't be looking over us."
   The Longhorns played one of their best defensive games of the year Thursday night. Johnson County held the Cyclones to 16-of-42 shooting from the field.
   At the half, Elizabethton had only 16 points.
   Atwood knows defense along with rebounding will be big keys to the game.
   "Defensively, we've really, really got to keep the game in the 40's and low 50's at the most," he said. "I think they're averaging about 65 points a game. The big key is going to be rebounding. (Friday night) they really hit the boards hard. They're athletic.
   "I think their game plan defensively is that they're going to give you one look at getting a decent shot. If it doesn't go in, they're getting the rebound. I feel like we've got to work hard on the boards on both ends."
   The Longhorns rallied from a disappointing fourth place District Tournament finish to come in second in the region. During all three games in the Region 1-AA Tournament, the Longhorns were the underdogs.
   Johnson County will be the underdog again tonight, a role the Longhorns love.
   "I've said all along that our kids are tough," Atwood said. "They like being in that situation where the people don't give them a chance. They like to prove people wrong. I think after Monday night hopefully they'll do the same thing."
   Win or lose tonight, the Longhorns have already accomplished something that hasn't been done in 19 years.
   When Johnson thinks about what this team has accomplished, it puts him at a loss for words.
   "It's still not hit me hard," he said. "But knowing that we're going to substate for the first time in 19 years, it's hard to explain. We've had a great group of guys and a great coach. All of us just came together and worked hard for this, so we deserve it."
   Don't expect too much traffic in Mountain City after dark tonight. Most of Johnson County will probably be making the three-hour drive to Knoxville, as the area is totally behind this Longhorn squad.
   "It's real special, not only to me and to my players, but also to the whole community," Atwood said. "The whole community has gotten behind us. It's basketball fever now, and it's never been that way before here.
   "This is a football town, and they really love football. But the last few weeks it's been a basketball town. I'm glad the community has gotten behind us like they have."