The Rebels overcame a seven-point, second-half deficit to take a 69-66 victory over the Grizzlies, improving to 29-4 and breaking the school record for wins in a season.
South advanced to Thursday’s championship game against Greeneville, a 71-47 winner over South Greene, and earned a berth in next Monday’s sectional round. The Rebels’ fourth sectional appearance ever is their first since back-to-back appearances in 1999 and 2000, when coach Michael McMeans was playing for South.
“We wanted this one. We wanted the school record and that was one of our goals coming back this year,” McMeans said. “We wanted to get to the substate. That’s the most important thing.”
South trailed late before Ben Diamond’s free throws with 1:04 to go gave the Rebels a 65-64 lead. Cole Layne made a steal and layup on the next possession to put South up by three.
“They were about to pass and Nick (Ellege) tipped it away,” Layne said of his key steal. “As soon as I saw that ball, I don’t think I’ve ever run that fast in my life. I took off, went over there and grabbed it and tried not to go out of bounds.
“We were focusing on our defense. They are just as good shooters as (Sullivan) East and we knew we couldn’t let them score or shoot,” he added. “We had to get out to the perimeter and get the defense to transition using our speed.”
After Grainger (16-17) cut it to one, Gannon Chase made a pair of free throws with 6.1 seconds left. The Grizzlies missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer before the buzzer.
“I was thinking this is a very big moment, maybe the game-decider,” Chase said of his thoughts from the free-throw line. “I was thinking to clear my head, breathe, go through the emotions and shoot the free throws. My feet were locked and I was like in quicksand. I wanted to make sure I was shooting from the same spot both times.”
South struggled in the first half, trailing 38-34 at the break after the Grizzlies hit eight shots behind the 3-point arc. Chase said the Rebels had to get a “downhill mentality” for the second half — and they did. They rallied to take a 53-49 lead after three quarters.
Layne scored 15 points in the second half and 20 overall to lead the Rebels. Diamond added to the winning cause with a 16-point effort.
Diamond gave South a 6-0 lead with back-to-back 3-point goals to start the game, but he was slowed after being whistled for two quick fouls. Sophomore Jackson Dean came in and made a pair of big 3-pointers before Diamond returned and made it rough on the Grizzlies.
“This is special. To break the school record and win 29 games and go to the substate in I don’t know how long, it’s special,” Diamond said. “That was our goal coming in. To win the district (tournament) and get to the substate. We want to win the region Thursday. These are our goals and it’s exciting to see us meeting them.”
Jaxon Williams paced Grainger with 17 points. Brody Grubb scored 15 and Tristan Warfield 14.
GREENE DEVILS CRUISE
Reid Satterfield scored 17 points to lead the Greene Devils (24-6), who simply had too much firepower for the Rebels (24-10).
Jakobi Gillespie came through with 14 points and Austin Loven tallied 10 in the Greeneville romp.
Sully Fox netted 17 to lead the Rebels, but Chandler Fillers with seven was the team’s next highest scorer.
(This story has been corrected to reflect that South is making its fourth sectional appearance.)
Sullivan South 69, Grainger 66
Warfield 14, Grubb 15, Robinson 3, Foster 2, Atkins 7, Overbay 2, Jones 6, Williams 17
SULLIVAN SOUTH (28-4
Ellege 3, Johnson 6, Diamond 16, Layne 20, Chase 8, Musick 3, Bergeron 2, Dean 6, Mullins 5
Grainger 20 18 11 17 — 66
Sullivan South 15 19 19 16 — 69
3-point goals—Grainger 12 (Warfield 4, Grubb 4, Williams 3, Robinson), Sullivan South 9 (Diamond 3, Johnson 2, Dean 2, Ellege, Layne)
Greeneville 71, South Greene 47
SOUTH GREENE (24-10)
Lamb 6, Fillers 7, Bailey 4, Hartman 3, Myers 6, Fox 17, Carter 4
Debusk 5, Gillespie 14, Dabbs 4, Satterfield 17, Tillery 6, Cannon 2, Banks 6, Loven 10, Grove 3, Manuel 4
South Greene 8 9 12 18 — 47
Greeneville 15 12 24 20 — 71
3-point goals—South Greene (None), Greeneville 8 (Satterfield 4, Banks 2, Gillespie, Debusk)