BRISTOL — After a disastrous start, Johnson County's players could have hung their heads and meekly returned to Mountain City.
Instead the Longhorns chipped and battled their way into some respect before fading at the end of a 74-49 opening-round loss to Memphis Hamilton on Thursday in the 31st annual Arby's Classic at Viking Hall.
Hamilton (9-1) advanced to play Greater Atlanta Christian in Saturday's quarterfinals at 5 p.m. GAC defeated Tabernacle Baptist Academy, 58-48.
Johnson County (7-6) dropped into the losers' bracket, and will play Tabernacle at 9 a.m. Saturday.
First-round action continues today with four games, beginning at 4 p.m.
In the first game of the tournament, Urspring, Germany, ran away from Sullivan East for a 66-36 victory.
Before Johnson County could get a feel for Viking Hall, the Longhorns were staring at the ugly end of a 19-1 score. The 'Horns actually led 1-0 three minutes into the game, but couldn't get shots to fall.
“The end result might not have changed, but it could have been a more competitive game if we made shots early,” said Longhorns' head coach Austin Atwood.
At the end of the first quarter, it was 24-3. Brian Dempsey personally made sure it would not finish much worse than that.
The senior forward totaled 28 points and seven rebounds, scoring in a variety of drives, scoops, flips and even a couple of feathery soft 3-pointers.
“We wanted to come out strong and fearless,” said Dempsey. “When we got down 20, we knew we had to play fundamental basketball if we didn't want it to be a blowout.”
A 12-4 run put the Longhorns back on decent footing. They eventually fell behind by 30 points, and the Memphis team started jacking up questionable shots — including Dedric Lawson's 30-foot jumpers.
Johnson County went on a 17-4 run to close within 17 points at 65-48 with 5:36 left in the game. The Longhorns then got four straight stops on the defensive end, but came up dry on the offensive side.
“Four stops in a row, but we couldn't find a bucket,” said Atwood. “(Chase) Phillips got two good looks, a three and a 15-footer. We could have cut it to 10 or 12. But again I don't think it would have changed the outcome.”
In the end it was Hamilton's balance that handcuffed the 'Horns. Keelon Lawson and Terrance Birdsong, who rocked around the rim instead of the Christmas tree, each had 14 points.
Dedric Lawson, the No. 4 ranked sophomore guard in the nation according to ESPN, finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“They've got a good chance to win it,” said Atwood. “They are athletic.”
J.R. Speed added nine points and three assists for Johnson County.
Hamilton outrebounded Johnson County 43-27, and Atwood said boxing out the Wildcats is quite a chore.
“We weren't nearly physical enough, but we couldn't catch them enough to be physical,” said Atwood.
Hamilton coach Keelon Lawson said his team wasn't in peak-performance mode.
“We had a long ride up here,” said Coach Lawson. “We left at 2 a.m., so I knew our guys would be a little sluggish.”
Sullivan East 36
The Patriots got off to two bad starts and couldn't recover from the second one. They were outscored 28-4 combining the first few minutes of each half.
Urspring jumped out to a 13-1 lead in the first four minutes of the game before East rattled off an 18-5 run to make a battle of it. The Patriots were still in the game despite a 10-0 run by the German team in the final 2:50 before the break, making it 30-22.
Then in the third quarter, Urspring opened with a blitz and the Patriots were done. Combined with the end of the first half, Urspring handed East a 25-3 run.
“Over the course of 32 minutes, their length just gets you,” said Patriots' head coach John Dyer. “They aren't the defending Arby's champions for nothing. They know how to play.”
Christian Sengfelder was the biggest problem for Sullivan East. The 6-foot-6 senior muscled his way to 27 points as the Germans outscored East 30-2 in the paint.
Mahir Agva added 12 points and 10 rebounds while Thomas Grun totaled 13 points and six assists.
East got 12 points from freshman guard Gavin Grubb.
“He's something,” said Dyer. “He hasn't played like a freshman all year.”