Longhorns slip past Patriots

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   MOUNTAIN CITY- It wasn't exactly what Johnson County head coach Austin Atwood wanted, but he will take it.
   The Longhorns rebounded from an opening night loss to Greeneville by defeating the Sullivan East Patriots 68-58 Saturday during the nightcap of the TSSAA Hall Of Fame Tip-Off Tournament at Ray Shoun Gym.
   The Longhorns led virtually the whole way in this one, but Atwood still sees room for improvement.
   "Anytime you win it's a good thing," Atwood said. "But we didn't do many good things. It doesn't feel like a win. But (Sullivan East head coach John Dyer) does a great job. He could bring a team full of elementary kids and he would make a game out of it with you."
   One good thing that did happen for the Longhorns was Matt Cornett returning to the form that has garnered him so much preseason hype. Cornett scored 26 points on the evening, including 16 in the first half.
   Cornett was hammered with foul trouble against Greeneville the night before, and finished with only eight points. But Cornett knew this was going to be his night.
   "We matched up a lot better tonight," Cornett said. "I didn't have a guy my size and a 6-10 guy on the other side of me tonight. It worked out a little better. We play a lot more aggressive than they do, and that helped us out a lot."
   Sullivan East was still in the game after three quarters, as the once double-digit lead had been cut to six points at 52-46. However, an unsung hero did his part to change that.
   Post player Jon Stout scored all of his eight points in the fourth quarter, and also hit the glass very hard. His basket with 3:40 to go in the game capped off a 12-6 Longhorn run.
   The score was 64-52 at that point, and Johnson County never looked back.
   "I felt like my first half wasn't good at all," Stout said. "I just went out there and did my best."
   Said Atwood: "Jon was definitely a plus. That was a great game for Jon."
   Tommy Short also had a nice night for the Longhorns, as he finished with 15 points. Michael Lipford added nine to the Johnson County cause.
   Donovan Dye topped East with 15 points. Both teams are now 1-1 on the young season.
   The Longhorns will not play again until Dec. 6, when they face Science Hill in Roundball in the Hall.
   Greeneville 61
   Unaka 45
   The Rangers struggled early in this one, but refused to die in the second half.
   The Greene Devils led 24-9 after the first quarter, and extended their lead to 43-21 at halftime.
   The Rangers never folded the towel in this one. Unaka held Greeneville to only six field goals in the second half. Unaka got to within 13 points at 54-41 with 4:20 to go in the game.
   Unaka head coach Donald Ensor was pleased with the second half.
   "We need to clean up our turnovers, and I think we cut down on that in the second half," Ensor said. "We defended a little better. I think we may have grown up a little bit in the second half. They had a perfect opportunity to lay down, and we didn't. We fought back in the game, and had a chance to get it down to single digits several times."
   Rusty Chambers had another strong night, as he scored 20 of the Rangers' 45 points.
   Ensor was pleased with Chambers, but hopes others will step up and score more points for the Rangers.
   "We've got to," Ensor said. "We're very hesitant on the perimeter taking shots. Early, they blocked a few. We came out with a mindset more of shooting. They blocked a few early, and then we went back into a shell."
   Ensor hopes playing a team that's as strong as Greeneville will help the Rangers in the long run.
   "Our whole thing is based on playing hard and defending. When you play good teams like Greeneville and Bearden, that will expose your weaknesses, and that's how we get better. They've exposed our weaknesses, and now we know where we stand and what we need to work on."
   Up next for Unaka is the Bahamas Tournament, which is one of the top prep basketball tournaments around.
   Ensor hopes the Rangers are ready for the challenge.
   "We're looking forward to the challenge," Ensor said. "We hope our players are. They need to be. That's the mindset we want them to have. This is a tribute to our program and the success we've had in the past. I want this team to carry it on.
   "It's a huge honor to get invited to such a tournament. Our boosters club has been wonderful. Every kid on our team is going for free. It's a great honor. We hope to go down there and represent not just Stoney Creek, but also Tennessee and the U.S. We want to represent our home folks well."
   Knox Bearden 75
   Hampton 58
   Like the Rangers, Hampton fell way behind early only to rally late.
   Knox Bearden outscored Hampton 28-7 in the second quarter to take a 44-15 lead into the locker room.
   But Hampton put on a fourth quarter explosion, as it outscored Bearden 31-21 in the final frame.
   Hampton head coach Bud Hazelwood was very proud of his young team for the way it fought in this battle of the Bulldogs.
   "I'm tickled too death," Hazelwood said. "I was sick when I left last night (against Sullivan East) with the effort, but I'm pleased tonight."
   The worst news on the night for Hampton came when point guard Josh Moss injured his hand. Hazelwood is hoping it's nothing real serious for a team that has already been stricken with injures.
   "Josh was playing real well until he got hurt," Hazelwood said. "He'll probably go get X-rays and see how his hand is."
   The Bulldogs showed a lot of improvement in this one, and Hazelwood didn't seem to be surprised.
   "We had a long talk when we got back to the school last night," he said. "I left and some of them stayed in the gym until 11:30. They want to be players and winners."
   Greg Osborne and Adam Miller topped Hampton with nine points. Kyle Cruze led Bearden with 19.