ELIZABETHTON — Tyler Nichols made his presence felt in the second half, especially with 0.7 seconds left in the game.
The Elizabethton junior guard took a charge, denying J.R. Speed's potential game-tying shot in the lane, allowing the Cyclones to escape with a 57-55 victory Thursday night at Treadway Gymnasium.
It was an important Three Rivers Conference victory for the Cyclones (6-2, 16-6) while the Longhorns (4-3, 9-9) took their second bitterly close league loss.
In the girls' game, Elizabethton scored 34 points in the third quarter and rolled to a 78-26 victory.
Elizabethton boys' head coach Lucas Honeycutt summed up his team's victory in two words.
“Relieved,” said Honeycutt. “Relieved.”
Trailing by two points with 19.2 seconds left, the Longhorns called their final timeout. Nothing came open, and Speed was forced to drive into the lane. His eight-footer banked in, but was waved off with the foul.
Johnson County head coach Austin Atwood said Nichols was in good position, but put his hands up and should have been called for the block.
“I don't remember exactly because it happened so fast,” said Nichols, who took three charges in the game. “They were down by two points, so it was going through my mind to take a charge. Coach Honeycutt told me to help off.”
Honeycutt said he was glad to see the call go Nichols' way.
“He did that same thing in the substate game last year, and the call went the other way,” said Honeycutt.
Atwood said the call didn't cost his team the game.
“Officiating didn't win or lose the thing,” said Atwood, whose team lost a heartbreaker earlier this season to Sullivan South. “We didn't value every possession.”
Atwood said Speed did all he could do on the final possession.
“That was ad lib,” said Atwood. “He knew to get it to the rim.”
Nichols, who had just four points at halftime, finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
“I just came out and refocused and the shots started falling,” said Nichols.
Elizabethton held a seemingly comfortable 52-43 lead with five minutes left in the game. However, Cody Bailey made a couple of buckets, touching off a 9-0 run that was capped by Chase Phillips' 3-pointer with 2:39 left in the game.
Zeke Clark then delivered a pair of free throws to put the Cyclones back on top at 54-52.
Then the Longhorns' Dalton Timbs dialed up a trey ball to put Johnson County on top with 1:27 to go. Conley Bowers answered with a free throw 12 seconds later, setting the stage for his blocked shot of Brian Dempsey's driving attempt on the other end with 41 seconds left.
Phillips fouled out going for the rebound, and Nichols dropped in both free throws for a two-point lead.
Clark had a terrific all-around game for the Cyclones with 21 points, five rebounds and eight assists.
“When they went zone, Zeke did a good job recognizing it and getting us easy buckets,” said Honeycutt. “He found some guys underneath for layups.”
Dempsey led the Longhorns with 21 points. Timbs had 11 and Speed chipped in with 10.
Elizabethton (girls) 78
Johnson County 26
After a bit of slow start, the Lady Cyclones kicked it into high gear with 57 points in the second and third quarters combined.
Kelci Marosites led the way with 18 points while Kayla Marosites added 13.
It was a balanced effort as four other players nearly reached double figures: Sarah Bradley (9), Sarah Robinson (8), Megan Pietrowski (8) and Melenda Perry (8).
The Cyclones led just 13-8 after the first quarter before outscoring Johnson County 23-8 in the second quarter and 34-8 in the third quarter.
Johnson County got a spirited effort from Brooke Brown. The senior point guard totaled 15 points.