The Class AA "Mr. Basketball" finalist plenty made up for it in the fourth quarter, leading the Longhorns to a 65-56 victory over the Cyclones Wednesday night at Happy Valley High School.
Atwood finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds and five assists as Johnson County (27-5) advanced to the final, where it will meet Greeneville, a 67-64 winner over Sullivan South. Both winners earned sectional berths.
"I thought it was on me that they got the lead, taking a bad shot with four seconds left (at the end of the third quarter)," said Atwood, who scored 25 points in the second half. "I felt like I needed to make up for that. It wasn't just me, it was my teammates. Gavin (Reece), Lucas (Phillips), Mike (Oxentine), Troy (Arnold), all my teammates, they all made some big plays."
Nico Ashley had 14 points to lead Elizabethton, which ended its season 23-7. Eric Wilson had 12 points and nine rebounds, while Jake Roberts had 10 points and Evan Perkins ended with eight.
"Jake really came on at the end of the year. He's going to a great player for us next year," Elizabethton coach Lucas Honeycutt said. "Eric, he's one of those players who can do everything and run the show. He's going to be really missed and there's no way to replace him. Nico, he's had some really big games and he's going to get better and better as he gets stronger.
"All of our kids just got out there and battled on the floor."
Lucas Phillips scored nine points off shots behind the arc for Johnson County. Gavin Reece and Oxentine each ended with eight points, and Zach Eller had four steals.
Reece also played a big role on the defensive end as Elizabethton's rally in the third quarter came over the five minutes he was out of the game with foul trouble.
"That's when they went on their run," Johnson County coach Austin Atwood said. "Gavin does so much for us on both ends of the floor. With him out, it gets us out of kilter."
Johnson County scored the first eight points of the game with 3-point goals by Atwood and Gavin Reece.
The Longhorns continued to set the pace throughout the first half, leading 22-9 in the second quarter before Elizabethton rallied to cut the lead to 25-19 at halftime and to just two points early in the third quarter.
Elizabethton continued to press forward and took a 40-38 lead at the end of the third quarter. Johnson County led just 53-51 after Wilson hit a pair of free throws with 1:28 left.
Over the next 27 seconds Phillips hit a 3-point goal and then Atwood converted on a 3-point play and later a pair of free throws to give Johnson County a double-digit lead.
"I enjoy this as much as any win in my life," Coach Atwood said to his team after the game. "But, there's still work to be done."
For Elizabethton, it was time to reflect on a season which the Cyclones tied Johnson County for the Three Rivers Conference championship and won the District 1-AAA championship.
"To share the conference championship, be district champs, we just came up a little short tonight," Honeycutt said. "We lost to a good team. Johnson County at one time won 19 games in a row and great effort by them.
"Our kids got a little shellshocked, but I'm proud of the way they battled back and took the lead. Johnson County has a good team. Gavin Reece, he's been an unsung hero, and Blake Atwood, he's a Mr. Basketball finalist for a reason."
Greeneville 67, Sullivan South 64
Chase Bowery's 3-point shot came up just short with one second left and the Rebels (21-13) fell to the Greene Devils (21-10) in the nightcap.
After Greeneville took a 21-12 lead at the end of the first quarter, South rallied and it was tight the rest of the way. Tyler Marsh scored 16 points in the Greene Devils' win, while Jaevon Gillespie finished with 15 points and Reid Satterfield ended with 13.
Gannon Chase paced South with 16 points, followed by Ben Diamond with 15. Bowery tallied 12 points and 10 rebounds, while freshman Cooper Johnson scored 10 points.