Fulton clips 'Horns

By Matt Hill

   KNOXVILLE--Even though the clock finally struck midnight for the Johnson County Longhorns Monday evening, the Cinderellas in Northeast Tennessee this postseason were just a few plays away from going to the big dance.
   The Longhorns gave a valiant effort before falling at Knox Fulton 61-53 in Class AA substate action.
   Johnson County ends its season with a 20-13 record, while the Falcons improve to 27-5 and advance to the TSSAA State Tournament.
   "Its tough to get there," Knox Fulton head coach Jody Wright said. "You've got to be good and you've got to have a little luck along the way."
   The Falcons had to earn this one.
   Propelled by three Judd Shoun buckets, Johnson County raced out to a 9-2 lead, but a 21-4 Fulton run made that a distant memory.
   Knox Fulton held a 23-13 advantage early in the second, and it looked like the Falcons were going to cruise.
   It didn't happen.
   With tough defense combined with a 10-of-10 effort from the foul line in the second quarter, the Longhorns only trailed 32-28 at the break.
   Matt Cornett, who later fouled out with a 14-point effort, made six of those foul shots.
   "He shot well from the free-throw line," Johnson County head coach Austin Atwood said about Cornett. "They were having to put two people on him, but Matt did a great job of not getting in offensive foul trouble. He made a few reach in fouls that I wish he would of stayed away from. But offensively Matt played good, and we didn't get him enough touches. But I credit Fulton for that because they really pressured Judd well, and made Judd play the perfect game."
   Fulton hit two buckets to start the third period to push the Falcon edge up to 36-28, but two Tommy Short treys keyed another Longhorn run. With 4:22 to go in the frame, Fulton held just a two-point lead at 37-35.
   "They don't quit," Atwood said. "When their backs are against the wall, that's when they're the best. That's when we started knocking them off the boards. They would get ahead, we would block their butts out, limit them to one shot. We would reach back, then we would rest a minute and they would go hit the boards again."
   The Longhorns went into the fourth quarter trailing 46-41, but a 7-0 spurt by the Falcons to start the frame proved to be the dagger.
   However, Johnson County did come back to make it interesting. The Longhorns were within seven points again in the final two minutes after a couple of big shots by Shoun.
   The Falcons did hold on for the victory, but it was a far cry from the 36-point beating they gave the Longhorns back in December.
   "They made great strides down the stretch," Atwood said. "I credit those boys for that. When they knew time was getting close for the end to be, that's when they stepped up and played. If I was a better coach, I would've had them playing like that all year long."
   Shoun led Johnson County with 16 points, while Short finished with 13.
   Michael Lipford added eight on the night.
   RuShawn Reeves had 15 to lead a balanced Fulton attack.
   Longhorn seniors Adam Johnson, Matt Cornett, Tommy Short and Jason Poteet played their last games as Longhorns on Monday night, but will go down as the class that put the Longhorns in the substate for the first time in 19 years.
   It was a substate game that the Longhorns came close to pulling out, and according to Johnson, the quartet wanted to give it their all on Monday night.
   "First of all I thank the coach for preparing us for this game," Johnson said. "This group together as a team, we knew this could be our last. We knew we had to lay it on the line, and do the best we could. We knew we had to play with our heart, and I think everybody here did that. We just didn't have some breaks that we should of had."
   Despite the valiant effort, the 'Horns are still hurt by the loss.
   "Knowing your high school career as a basketball player is over, it's hard to explain," Johnson said. "I just want to give thanks to the coaches and the players who have helped us throughout this season. It's a great group of seniors."
   *For more on this game and Johnson County's outstanding season, read Wednesday's Elizabethton Star.