Longhorns edge past Cloudland

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   It was an hour of frustration for the Johnson County boys basketball team Friday night.
   Longhorn point guard Judd Shoun made sure the team didn't have to think about it all weekend.
   Shoun's fourth-quarter heroics helped the Longhorns avoid the upset in a 50-45 nail-biter over the Cloudland Highlanders Friday night at Sonny Smith Gym.
   Despite Shoun scoring 11 of his 14 in the final period, Johnson County head coach Austin Atwood didn't leave the gym in a good mood.
   "This is like a loss," Atwood said. "I've always felt like we've had tough kids, but right now our kids aren't very tough."
   Shoun did play tough in the fourth quarter.
   With Cloudland ahead 37-36 midway through the final stanza, Shoun sparked a 7-0 Longhorn spurt with a huge trey.
   The 'Landers responded with a three-pointer from Cole Gouge, and a gliding basket by point guard Mark Byrd. Byrd was fouled on the play, and the game was then tied at 43-43 with 2:08 left after Byrd hit his free-throw attempt.
   The last two minutes of the game, however, belonged to Shoun and the Longhorns.
   Shoun nailed another three-pointer after Byrd's heroics to put Johnson County up for good at 46-43. The Longhorns were leading 48-45 with 18 seconds left before Shoun came up with the game-clincher.
   The Highlanders had one last chance to tie the contest, but Shoun stole a pass and took it in for the hoop.
   Shoun and pretty much the rest of the Longhorn team had been quiet until the final quarter. Shoun felt like it was his responsibility to step up and make some plays.
   "The first three quarters, nobody was doing anything," Shoun said. "We had a lot of people in foul trouble. We came in here and talked about nobody stepping up. I felt like somebody had to take control. The first person to get to take control is the point guard. I tried to make the passes. I turned the ball over a lot, so I decided to just shoot the ball instead."
   Cloudland head coach Ned Smith thought his young team just couldn't match Johnson County's experience in the late stages of the contest.
   "They've probably got a little more experience," Smith said.
   Smith still thought it was a valiant effort for his team to nearly pull of the upset against a squad picked in the top three of the Watauga Conference in the preseason.
   "We played super," Smith said. "Right there at the end it's a two or three-point ball game, and it's anybody's game. We made some crucial turnovers there, but we boxed out well and shot well. We're getting a lot better."
   Johnson County's go-to-players were silent throughout most of the game. There might have been a reason for that.
   The Longhorns were in foul trouble throughout the game. Johnson County had 22 fouls called on the squad in the contest, including 12 in the first half.
   Atwood had to empty his bench in the third quarter, as Tommy Short was the only one of the big Longhorn scorers in the game.
   But the Longhorns managed the situation very well.
   Players like Justin Genaille and Mitch Harper stepped in nicely for Johnson County with Matt Cornett, Shoun and Michael Lipford on the bench. Lipford missed the contest due to illness.
   The Longhorns were leading 27-23 at halftime. They still owned a four-point advantage at 34-30 after three quarters.
   "They did great," said Longhorn senior Jason Poteet, who was making his first varsity start Friday night. "They helped the varsity in practice all week. They try to help us and make us better. They came in tonight and played like they were supposed to."
   As for the foul trouble, Shoun pointed the blame on themselves.
   "I think we're all playing with our hands more than we are with our feet," Shoun said. "We're trying to steal the ball, and not actually trying to make stops. We're trying to steal the ball and we're not playing with our feet. We just need to play a lot smarter. We still need to play aggressive, just a lot smarter."
   One player that played smart all night long was Cloudland's Mark Byrd.
   He finished the contest with 15 points, and ran a very smooth game from the point.
   It was a courageous effort for the junior, who is still recovering from a hand injury he suffered in the Class A state semifinal football game against Boyd-Buchanan.
   "We got him back there at Hampton," Smith said. "He's practiced two or three days. He scored 15 points, and he penetrated to the hole. He did a good job for us."
   Smith hopes Byrd will continue to show that scorers mentality he displayed on Friday night.
   "We need him to score this year," Smith said. "He's got to penetrate and get some good looks. We want it in his hands."
   Cole Gouge and Robby Tolley each hit double figures for Cloudland, scoring 13 and 12 points, respectively.
   Cornett and Short each poured in nine for the Longhorns, while Poteet had all of his seven points in the first quarter.
   The Longhorns improve to 5-4 on the young season, while Cloudland remains winless at 0-5.
   Both coaches are hoping for improvement in future games.
   "We need a win," Smith said. "We need a win to get us over the hump, and get us a little confidence knowing that we can win. We need a "W".
   Said Atwood: "We're not disciplined. We're just not playing well right now."