Thoroughly tested throughout the season with more than its share of injury and illness and instability within its roster, D-B persevered and now is just one victory away from a TSSAA sectional game.
Saturday night at the Buck Van Huss Dome, the Indians methodically handled Morristown East by a 69-53 count in a Region 1-AAA quarterfinal.
The Indians (18-12) were on their game in dismissing the Hurricanes (19-14), placing five players in double figures and holding a nice working lead all night.
See Todd Brase’s 📸📸from the game
The convincing win came on the heels of losing 6-foot- 4 junior starter Jahson Dennis to a season-ending knee injury in a recent practice session.
“All the things we’ve gone through all year have made us stronger,” said junior floor leader Zane Whitson. “Really, it’s been kind of like team bonding with us having to realize how to play without certain people at different times.
“It’s been about how we learn to play without me or Abiah (Releford) or Brady (Stump) or whoever, and now without Jahson. It’s strengthened us, no doubt.”
Morristown East, the No. 3 seed out of District 2-AAA, raced out of the gate on the heels of aggressive guard Micah Simpson to lead 8-3. However, freshman Jonavan Gillespie came off the bench to provide instant offense for D-B and help the Tribe gain a 16-11 advantage by the end of the first quarter.
Gillespie, a smooth 5-6 guard who moved up from jayvee in midseason, buried three 3-point rainbows and scored all 13 of his points in the first half, which ended with the Indians up 31-18 and in total command.
“He’s got a beautiful shot,” Whitson said. “It’s really great to be able to count on these freshmen (Gillespie and Stump) and have confidence that they can shoot it and score for us. They’ve been big.”
PLAYING WITH THE LEAD
D-B maintained its edge in the second half, never allowing East to get any closer than seven points, the last time at 54-47 with 5:08 to play.
The Indians got offense from everywhere and would not surrender the lead, finally pulling away in the game’s final four minutes by closing with a 15-6 spurt.
Releford led the winners with 14 points, and sophomore forward Jack Browder equaled Gillespie’s 13-point night to lend good support. In addition, sophomores Malachi Hale and McKinley Tincher kicked in 11 and 10 points, respectively.
“These sophomores have really came through for us,” Whitson said. “And Abiah has really taken a leadership position and I’m so proud of him for that.
“It’s all really made our team come together, and if everyone can continue contributing like we did tonight, there’s no telling how far this team can go.”
Morristown East was led by the 21-point game of Simpson and the 14-point outing of 6-8 sophomore Braden Ilic.
The Tribe now faces Sevier County, a 76-57 winner over Tennessee High on Saturday, in Tuesday night’s Region 1-AAA semifinal round at Morristown East.
The survivor of that game moves on to the sectionals.