Throwing more at Sullivan Central than it could handle, Johnson County remained no worse than tied in the loss column atop the Three Rivers after easing to a 75-45 victory over the reeling Cougars.
The Longhorns (21-4, 8-1) have three games league to play and are in line for a bye in the Region 1-AA tournament around mid-February.
"We've just got to do our part, just got to take care of ourselves," said 19th-year Johnson County coach Austin Atwood. "We don't have to have much help.
"We're playing at a pretty high level right now and we've got a lot of pieces."
GRABBING THE JUGULAR
The game was close through the first period before the Longhorns seized command with outstanding defensive pressure up top, forcing six second-quarter Cougars turnovers and turning a 15-15 game into a 34-20 Johnson County advantage by halftime.
Zack Eller and Gavin Reece spearheaded the defense, which led directly to quick buckets as the Longhorns scored on 10 of 12 possessions.
"Our two little guards did a heck of a job pressuring their guards and that caused them into a few turnovers," Atwood said. "We got four or five stops in a row and we were getting buckets off those stops, and that was big."
Acting Central coach Brian Barbour concurred.
"I thought we came out with really good energy," said Barbour, sitting in for the suspended Derek McGhee, who was tossed from last Friday's game with two technical fouls and must sit out two games. "They turned it up a notch (in the second quarter) and we couldn't quite match them.
"Once they got ahead of us, we never did quite answer."
ATWOOD, AS USUAL
With 6-foot-1 senior Blake Atwood pouring in 25 points on the evening, which is one less than his per-game average, the Mountain City bunch pulled away in the third quarter to win handily.
Lucas Phillips scored 14 points to back Atwood, and Eller kicked in 13.
"There's no selfishness on this team," said Austin Atwood. "The players do all know their roles and they all know that (Blake's) is bigger than the others, but like I told them in (the locker room afterward), it takes all of us."
The Cougars (9-16, 4-6) were led by the 12-point game of Trey Rosenbalm and the 11-point outing of Ben Williams.
Central, which once stood at 3-0 in the conference, is now pointing to February.
"Our message is still tournament time in February," Barbour said. "We're in a little funk right now and we've got to shake that. We want to start to click on all cylinders and get back to the way we were playing."
CENTRAL GIRLS ROLL ON
The Lady Cougars kept their clean conference slate intact with a methodical 50-39 victory over last-place Johnson County.
Sullivan Central (17-9, 10-0) hopped out to a 12-2 advantage after one quarter and cruised from there, rarely allowing its lead to fall under double digits.
Peyton Sams paced the Cougars with a game-high 19 points, hitting a pair of 3-pointers along the way. Teammate Abbey Crawford added 14 points.
The Lady Longhorns (10-13, 2-7) received a 13-point outing from Sadie Stout and a 12-point game from Taylor Cox. The pair combined for five 3-pointers.
Kristi Walling's Cougars have two league games remaining — both at home, against Elizabethton and Unicoi County — in their attempt to run the Three Rivers table.
The Lady Cougars have already won the league regular-season title.