Longhorns trim Warriors, 53-52

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   MOUNTAIN CITY -- Johnson County got enough key plays from their big guns down the stretch to edge Happy Valley 53-52 in a key Watauga Conference game Monday night at Ray Shoun Gymnasium.
   Tommy Short pulled up on a jumper, pushing the Horns' out to a 52-48 lead in the final minute before Happy Valley bounced back with a basket by Ryan Toney.
   Judd Shoun went to the foul line to seal the win for Johnson County (1-1, 6-4) with 18 seconds left. Shoun converted on one of two from the line, leaving the door open for Happy Valley.
   "I should have hit both of them," remarked Shoun. "But, I looked up at the score and got a little rattled. I just choked."
   The Warriors (1-1, 2-6) had a chance to tie as Toney launched a three-point attempt. After the shot failed, Andrew Bowman scored on a put back basket for the final score.
   The Longhorns were led by a balanced attack. Shoun scored 16 to pace Johnson County, while the post players of Matt Cornett, Frank Icenhour and Short all chipped in 10.
   "I don't know if you can call it an attack," said Longhorn coach Austin Atwood. "But, we were balanced. I still don't think we've played to our potential. Frank did a good job playing within his capacity and Judd is right now our most consistent player."
   Icenhour did most of his damage in the first half, getting key inside positioning.
   "I tried to rebound and box out, where we could get some easy points," commented Icenhour. "I wanted either to put it back in the basket or pass it back out to my teammates. I just wanted to post up on them down low as good as I could."
   Shoun and Short provided firepower from the outside, with each hitting a crucial three-pointer down the stretch.
   "We need to get the ball inside better," said Shoun. "Frank was posting up hard inside and Matt was too. If we looked inside more, we might not have had to hit those threes, because those guys were doing their jobs down low.
   "We knew Happy Valley would try to slow the game down and we were ready for them. It was like we were ready for them until the game tipped off."
   For Happy Valley, the game had plenty of positives. The Warriors did a much better job attacking the basket than in previous games and converted 80 percent (16 of 20) from the free throw line.
   "We improved over 10 points from our last game," said HV head coach Charlie Bayless. "We've got to start getting in the sixties to beat some of these teams. We penetrated better on the fast break and got some easy buckets.
   "We had some good shots that we missed wide open. We handled the ball better on the press and took it to the hole on the middle lane and it made it tougher on them."
   Center Jordy Harrison and forward Bobby Morton were instrumental in the Warrior inside attack with 15 points apiece.
   "We had to get around the rim and get some rebounds," said Harrison. "We got good positioning and got some trash baskets. We cut right off the Warrior (play) and the backdoor was always open. That's an important piece of our offense to get those quick shots. We felt as a team it was time to step it up and give everything we had."
   Happy Valley also got good play out of the point guard position, with Stephen Williams solidly filling in for the injured Cody Whitlock, who left in the first quarter.
   "It's tough on Williams," said Bayless. "He's not a natural point guard. He's more of a wing man. Cody was hurt and we tried to play him, but one game doesn't mean enough to get a kid hurt. Johnson County did a good job shooting the ball. If not for that, we might have beat them."
   The contest stayed close throughout with the 'Horns holding a 9-7 advantage after one quarter and the Warriors going on top 25-23 at the half. After Johnson County bolted out to a seven point lead in the third on baskets by Michael Lipford and Short, HV responded with scores from John Bulla, Harrison and Morton.
   Shoun put Johnson County back ahead with a cutting basket with only :01 left in the quarter. The 'Horns again went up by seven before Warriors rallied in the fourth to reclaim the lead. Undeterred, Johnson County reeled off another seven in a row, before the final Happy Valley comeback.
   Next up for Happy Valley is a Thursday date against University High in the Grindstaff/Carter County Classic at Hampton. Johnson County will now travel to Knoxville to participate in the Super 16 tournament also the day after Christmas.