With the game tied at 8 early in the second quarter, the Rebels jumped into a full-court press and forced seven turnovers during a five-minute span. The result was a 19-0 run and a 27-8 South lead. By halftime, the Rebels were up 31-14 and on their way to an impressive 67-44 win over the Bulldogs.
South (28-4) tied a school record for victories in a season and advanced to Tuesday’s regional semifinal at Grainger. The Grizzlies edged Sullivan East 74-71 to earn their spot in the regional semifinals.
“Getting that record was something we’ve talked about as a team all season,” said Rebels senior Cole Layne. “I’m happy we finally got that.”
See Cheryl Gray’s 📸📸 from the game
With the Bulldogs playing stellar defense, it took just over three minutes for South to score the game’s first basket.
“I think we had a little bit of a letdown to start the game,” said South coach Michael McMeans. “We had an emotional win in the district finals and I think we came in here thinking we were just going to roll over them.
“Claiborne had nothing to lose and they got after us early,” the coach added. “I thought when we went to the press that changed everything.”
During the decisive second quarter, South’s Ben Diamond scored 10 points and Layne eight.
“They did a good job defensively in the first quarter,” said Layne, who finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds. “I thought when we went to the press and got those deflections and turnovers. things really started going our way.”
South continued its pressure into the second half and built its advantage to as many as 30 points, 63-33, with 4:23 left in the game.
“Hats off to South,” said Claiborne coach Corey McGinnis. “They have so many ways to beat you. And without question, that press really bothered us. We adjusted to it some and our kids played their tails off, but we were in too deep a hole to come back.”
Although pleased with the victory, Layne knows from this point on there can be no more slow starts if the Rebels hope to advance in postseason play.
“We have to have the intensity right from the start,” he said. “We can’t have another start like tonight.”
Diamond finished with 16 points. Nick Ellege scored 10 points and had six boards.
Kade Beeler led the Bulldogs (15-16) with 15 points, and Jacob Williams had 10 points and eight rebounds.