ERWIN — Johnson County almost went out of the District 1-AA tournament in a blaze of glory.
Unlike their entrance into the final four at Unicoi County High School, the Longhorns were unable to seal the deal in the fourth quarter — missing a handful of opportunities to tie or lead late in a 52-47 loss to Sullivan North in Tuesday night’s third-place game.
The Longhorns travel South Greene on Saturday for a Region 1-AA quarterfinal matchup.
“I told the guys, I’ll trade tonight for Saturday night any day of the week,” said Johnson County coach Austin Atwood. “We’re playing our best basketball right now. I’ve got to get them to believe and we’ve got to be ready to go Saturday. We’ve got three days to prepare and I think both (South Greene or Greeneville) are winnable games, but we’ve got to play great wherever we go.”
In the nightcap, Unicoi County fought through a disappointing first half with a 56-52 victory over Sullivan East for the championship.
Chase Arnold scored 25 points to lead the Golden Raiders, who led by as much as six in the fourth quarter of the opening contest. Johnson County kept it close, fighting within two thanks to free throws from Chase Phillips, but Grayson Ball responded with a bucket for North.
After a miss from outside, the Longhorns were forced to foul with time winding under the two minute mark. Arnold missed the front end of a one-and-one and Dusty Stout was on point for Johnson County, driving inside with a jumper while drawing a foul.
Stout’s make on the free throw made it a one-point game with 1:05 remaining.
Another missed one-and-one opportunity by the Raiders’ David Minnick gave Johnson County a shot at the lead, but Phillips missed an inside look forcing a foul with :12.6 remaining.
After North’s Cory Rowe connected on a pair from the charity stripe, Johnson County, trailing by three, drove the length of the floor with time expiring. However, Stout drove into the baseline and lost the ball out of bounds.
Arnold drained a pair of singles with 1.3 seconds on the clock to wrap the win for North, which narrowly avoided the same fate Elizabethton suffered in last Friday’s play-in.
“I think Phillips had a three that was almost in that popped all the way out, Carlton Tugman had a couple of 15-footers that went in and out,” said Atwood. “I’ll tell you what beat us, it was offensive rebounding for them. I think the first possession they had eight offensive rebounds. I just felt like we kept letting them get away. You do that too many times, you’re going to get beat.”
Johnson County started the game on fire with seven first-quarter points from Phillips and three-point plays from Tugman and Brian Dempsey to lead 18-15 at the end of one.
Arnold and Will White lifted North to a two-point halftime lead, and kept the Raiders in front in the third quarter despite a solid defensive effort from the Longhorns.
“They had some trouble throwing it over the top of it,” said Atwood. “Once they figured it out, they made some good passes and Arnold over there in the corner wide open for a three. You’ve got players like him and Will White, they’re just going to make big plays.”
Aside from Arnold, White and Minnick scored seven each to contribute to the North effort.
Johnson County was paced by a 17-point night from Phillips, with nine apiece from both Dempsey and Tugman.
Unicoi County……………….. 56
Sullivan East…………………. 52
The Patriots had Unicoi County right where they wanted them in the opening half.
At one point, East’s Chance Davis was single-handedly outscoring the Devils 19-17 by himself. But Davis was held to two points in the second half — and the Devils charged.
Shooting 65 percent from the field, John English’s team outscored the Pats 32-17 in the second half and made a move in the fourth quarter with the game at stake.
Tournament MVP Trevor Shelton scored 22 points with seven rebounds to lead the host team, while Ethan Rice added 16 points and Austin Hensley 13.
Davis finished with 21 to lead East, which had 10 from David Casaday.