Patriots clip Longhorns

By Matt Hill

   BLUFF CITY- Even Elvis Presley couldn't have put into song the heartbreak the Johnson County Longhorn boys basketball team felt Friday night.
   The Longhorns fell short to the Sullivan East Patriots 64-62 in a thriller at the Patriot Palace.
   It was a heart-pounding finish to the game. The Patriots' Adam Hughes drew a foul with 38 seconds left, and made both of his free-throws to put East ahead 64-62.
   The Longhorns had their chances, as Matt Cornett put up a shot that missed, but then came up with a rebound. He made another attempt to tie the game, but that didn't go in either.
   Johnson County received new life after fouling Seth Hayes in the final few seconds. Tommy Short came up with the rebound after Hayes missed the one and one, and the Longhorns took one last crack at tying the game.
   Johnson County's Judd Shoun took the open shot, but it wasn't meant to be as his attempt just missed to seal the deal for the Patriots.
   "We had opportunities there," Johnson County head coach Austin Atwood said. "We had the ball in our players hands at the end of the game. That's about all you can ask for."
   The Longhorns may have lost the contest, but they gave a very valiant effort in the second half.
   Johnson County was down 31-18 going into the third quarter, but that quickly changed. The Longhorns went on a 20-7 run during the first six minutes of the quarter, and tied the contest at 38-38 when Tommy Short hit two foul shots.
   "They played extremely hard and smart in the second half," Atwood said.
   "We didn't foul a whole lot, and we did some things we should have been doing in the first half. We just have to put a full-game together."
   The Longhorns were tied with the Patriots at 44-44 going into the fourth. Johnson County took its first lead of the game when Cornett drew a foul and made two free-throws, which put the Longhorns up 50-48 with 6:17 left to go in the game.
   Cornett was huge in Johnson County's second half run. He tallied 20 of his 27 points in the second half. Short was also instrumental in leading the Longhorns back, as he netted 10 of his 17 in the second stanza.
   "They played well," Atwood said.
   Atwood took a big risk in the first half by sitting out a regular starter for being late to practice. It might have been the difference in the game, but Atwood had no regrets about the decision.
   "If we had played him in the first half, we have a good chance of winning the game," Atwood said. "But it wasn't a hard decision and I'll do it again tomorrow if I need to."
   It was a very emotional night for Atwood and Sullivan East head coach John Dyer. Atwood played for Dyer in the late 1980's at Johnson County.
   "Besides my dad, I have more respect for him than anybody I've ever been around or met. I've learned a lot of my stuff from him. I told him what I learned from him was going to get me beat tonight. We said after the next game in Mountain City we're not playing anymore. It's too hard on both of us.
   "He probably does the best job of anybody in East Tennessee. I wish him well."
   Dyer also has a ton of respect for Atwood.
   "He's the toughest kid I have ever coached," Dyer said. "His team plays that way. He's a rising star as a basketball coach. There's not going to be anybody any better than that guy right there when it's all said and done. He's tough, he knows he's doing, and his kids played their hearts out."
   Dyer was happy to escape the Patriot Palace with a victory.
   "I'm proud of our guys for hanging in there," Dyer said. "We made big plays when we had to."
   Hughes had a big night for the Patriots, as he scored 30 points. John Schultz netted 15 for East.
   Dusty Elmore scored seven for the Patriots, but came up with two big treys down the stretch.
   The Longhorns now fall to 1-3 on the year heading into a showdown at Unaka Tuesday night.
   "We can go either way," Atwood said. "I don't know with this bunch yet, but hopefully we can step up and gain from this because this was a heck of a lot better showing than we had against Cloudland."