Sullivan Central overcomes Johnson County

By Matt Hill

   MOUNTAIN CITY--Johnson County was still in the game at halftime, but it was pretty much over after three quarters.
   A 24-13 spurt by Sullivan Central broke open a nip-and-tuck contest, and propelled the Cougars to an 81-63 victory over the Longhorns in a key Watauga Conference boys contest Tuesday night at Ray Shoun Gym.
   The game was built up as the battle of Watauga titans, as the preseason polls had Sullivan Central and Johnson County to be the biggest challengers to Elizabethton.
   Propelled by seven three-pointers and a balanced scoring attack that included five guys in double figures, the Cougars showed they may be a major threat in the race.
   Johnson County head coach Austin Atwood thought his bunch ran into a better team on Tuesday night.
   "Obviously, they're better right now," Atwood said. "They know it's a long season. But we've had a couple of chances to step up in some big games. We've got to do a little growing up, especially our go-to-players."
   The contest looked like it was going to go down to the wire after the first two quarters. A 6-1 run to end the half by Johnson County put the Longhorns in striking range at 31-27.
   But it was the third quarter that did the Longhorns in. With Chris Martin coming in to drain three-straight treys, the Cougars extended their advantage to 42-31 with 4:06 to go in the third.
   Central continued to frustrate the Horns and also stayed hot from the floor. It was a 53-34 Cougar lead with 1:12 to go left in the third, and Johnson County had to play catch-up the rest of the way.
   Another issue the Longhorns had to deal with was foul trouble. Several Longhorn starters spent a good amount of time on the bench.
   One starting player, Michael Lipford, fouled out in the third quarter.
   "We would have been better off with Lipford in the ball game," Atwood said.
   Longhorn point guard Judd Shoun, who led all scorers with 22 points, believes the team might be too aggressive.
   "We play good defense, but our problem is we play too aggressive sometimes," Shoun said. "The refs know that, and they should call those fouls. Most of the time we foul, and it starts in the first quarter when we play too aggressive. We slap to steal the ball, and that's what hurt us in the third quarter. We had a lot of people in foul trouble, and we had to sit some people down, and then they started going on a run."
   The Longhorns did get within ten points in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, but the Cougars pretty much had the game in the bag.
   Central's John LeSueur showed once again why he is one of Northeast Tennessee's top players by scoring 21 points on the evening. Joe Brown poured in 14, Matt Dunford netted 13, Martin scored 11 and Josh O'Dell finished with 10 for the Cougars.
   Matt Cornett was the only other Longhorn in double figures on the night, as he put up 11 points on the night. Lipford and Frank Icenhour each had eight for Johnson County.
   It was a big night individually for Shoun, but he felt like there was more he could have done.
   "I would rather score no points and win than score 40 and lose," Shoun said. "We just really didn't have a real good team effort tonight, and that's mostly my fault. I'll have to cut down on my scoring and assist more people in scoring."
   As for Central head coach Tony Vaughn, he continues his mastery of the Longhorns. This was the third time in two years the Cougars have recorded a lopsided win over Johnson County.
   Vaughn thought it was a huge victory for Sullivan Central.
   "We're tickled too death to get this win," Vaughn said. "It's a tough environment to play, and it's on the road for us. Austin does a great job with his kids. Of course, they've played a lot more games than we have here lately, so for us it was a great win.
   The Longhorns (2-3, 0-1 in the Watauga) will be back in action today at the Steamboat Springs Shootout in Colorado. After playing Tennessee High, Science Hill and Sullivan Central before going there, Atwood was having second thoughts about the timing of this game.
   "We're flying out tonight to go to Colorado, and that's bad scheduling on my part to schedule a darn good team like them," Atwood said Tuesday night. "I should of had somebody else."
   Sullivan Central 66
   Johnson County 31
   The Lady Cougars outscored the Lady Longhorns 20-2 in the opening minutes, and the girls from Blountville cruised from that point on.
   Johnson County struggled with turnovers in this one, and showed signs of a young and inexperienced team.
   "When turnovers start happening, sometimes you've got to stop the bleeding," Johnson County head coach Eric Crabtree said. "And we didn't stop the bleeding until two or three minutes to go in the quarter. It's hard to dig yourself a hole and expect to get out of it."
   With the Lady Longhorns starting the season with just three seniors and one junior, depth was going to be a big issue. But a couple of weeks ago, Johnson County received another big blow when shooting guard Andrea McQueen, who averaged 18 points-per-game last season, tore her ACL for the second time in three years at the Happy Valley Tip-off Tournament and will be out for the season.
   "We were thin at depth anyway," Crabtree said. "When you've only got three seniors and one junior and the rest are freshmen and sophomores, and you lose a senior that has played four years, not only do we lose a scorer, but we lost a ball handler. We lost a girl who could break the pressure, we lost a girl who could play good defense and knew where to be. And when lose a girl like that, and you don't have anybody to step in and replace her, it takes awhile to adjust."
   Kristi Moody topped Sullivan Central with 20 points. Elena Owens and Ryann Tillman had 14 and 13, respectively for Johnson County.
   The Longhorn girls will play an in-school game at home Friday against Happy Valley.