Seemingly finished on several occasions in regulation, and then failing to close the deal in the first overtime, the Rebels got a tough game-winning shot from Cole Layne in the final seconds of the second overtime for a 63-61 win over Elizabethton at the Dyer Dome on Tuesday night.
South (28-4) captured its first district crown since the 1984 team won in Class AAA.
“It’s unbelievable,” said South coach Michael McMeans, a former standout player for the Rebels. “It has been forever and this school has been waiting a long time. This was maybe the best high school game I’ve ever been a part of. I’m just proud of our kids. We hung in there. We had all kinds of kids make plays tonight.”
See Cheryl Gray’s 📸📸 from Tuesday’s games
None of those plays was bigger than Layne’s dagger. He took a pitch coming off the right wing and dribbled to the foul line for a pull-up jumper. His shot grazed the left side of the rim and fell through, leaving time only for an Elizabethton heave from 70 feet.
“I knew it was true,” Layne said. “It felt good. It feels great to hit that shot (to win the district).”
Layne’s interview was concluded by a sea of hearty Rebels fans chanting “MVP! MVP!” and mobbing Layne in a tremendous show of school spirit. The gym was packed on both sides and fans for both teams cheered and shouted throughout the back-and-forth affair. Layne finished with 26 points and was the district MVP.
Elizabethton’s Jake Roberts made 2 of 3 free throws to tie the game with 30 seconds left in the second overtime, setting the stage for Layne.
“When adults get out of the way and let kids have fun, I thought it was great,” McMeans said.
South will play at home in Saturday’s regional quarterfinal against Claiborne at 7 p.m. Elizabethton will host South Greene.
HOW THE REBELS GOT THERE
South was fighting an uphill battle throughout the second half after entering the locker room facing a 28-17 deficit. When it appeared the Cyclones were going to put it away, Camden Necessary made a short bank shot with four seconds left in regulation to force the first overtime.
The Rebels were in command in the first overtime, taking advantage of Elizabethton’s foul situation with Parker Hughes and Nico Ashley both on the bench with five personals. South led 57-55 but couldn’t seal the deal from the charity stripe.
Elizabethton’s Donta Earnest was fouled while shooting with 1.1 left on the clock. The sophomore, described by Cyclones coach Lucas Honeycutt as a defensive standout, calmly made both pressure free throws to force a second overtime.
“That’s just tough,” Honeycutt said. “We just kept giving ourselves a chance. The ball went in for them. That’s the way it goes.”
South had only four players score, and three of them combined for 61 of the 63 points.
Necessary finished with 18 points in an impressive performance in the paint. Ben Diamond added 17.
Ashley led the Cyclones with 15 points. Roberts added 13 and William Willocks totaled 11.
PATRIOTS BRING THE DRAMA, TOO
In Tuesday’s third-place game, Sullivan East got a dramatic buzzer-beating 3-pointer — the Patriots’ 18th trey of the night — from Ethan Bradford to edge Unicoi County 83-82.
Following a steal by Brett Lingerfelt when Sullivan East was trying to hold for the final shot, the Blue Devils went ahead on Lingerfelt’s free throws.
But Bradford drained his 3-pointer from the right corner to give the Patriots the win.
Bradford made a school-record nine 3-pointers and finished with 29 points. Dylan Bartley added 20 points and Mason Montgomery totaled 13.
Brock Thompson hit eight treys for Unicoi — which connected on 14 for the game — and finished with 38 points. Lucas Slagle added 15.
East will travel to play Grainger while the Blue Devils will visit District 2-AA champion Greeneville for their regional games.