Hensley dominated from the get-go and finished with 32 points as Unicoi County whipped Elizabethton 73-50 in the Region 1-AA basketball semifinals Tuesday night at Chuckey-Doak’s gym.
The win earned a sectional berth for the Blue Devils, and they will meet Grainger in Thursday’s championship at 7 p.m. Grainger snatched its berth with a tough 63-60 win over Chuckey-Doak.
HENSLEY TAKING OVER
It was the fourth win for Unicoi this season over the Cyclones, but the first three were tough and the Blue Devils needed late fourth-quarter comebacks in the previous two.
This time, Hensley poured in 22 first-half points as Unicoi built what turned out to be an insurmountable 18-point halftime lead at 42-24. Teammate Troy Podvin said Hensley’s early heat-up made a big difference.
“It was huge, seeing him hit shots,” said Podvin. “And as (the Cyclones) came out on him, he had to pass it inside, too. That made everybody spread, and it just made it a lot easier.”
Hensley said the Blue Devils knew they needed a better start this time after Elizabethton punched them with a 22-5 blast in the district semifinals.
“We knew it was important to get a quick start because that really takes the life out of a team,” said Hensley.
Unicoi head coach Michael Smith said Hensley wanted the season to continue.
“He just came out playing,” said Smith. “He didn’t want to go home after tonight. You could tell. He came out hitting jump shots like crazy, taking it to the rim. When he’s playing like that, he’s hard to guard.”
Podvin once again dominated in the paint, finishing with a double-double 14 points and 12 rebounds. Danny Lowery stepped up with nine points and eight rebounds.
It was a season-ending loss for Elizabethton, but a much deeper postseason run than its record of 12-22 would have indicated.
The Cyclones cut Unicoi’s lead to 10 points in the third quarter, but couldn’t get closer.
“We fought,” said Elizabethton head coach Lucas Honeycutt. “That’s the identity of this team. No matter what happens, they fought. Just real proud of them, not laying down. Just a great effort.”
Eric Wilson led the Cyclones with 13 points and five rebounds. Evan Perkins added 12 points.
Grainger 63, Doak 60
Dalton Conn and Jacob Bunch helped the Grizzlies build a substantial lead, and it was enough to hold off a desperation rally by the Black Knights that didn’t end until Jacob Willett’s 70-footer at the buzzer fell about a foot short of the rim.
Conn had 20 points to lead District 2 champ Grainger (23-8) while Bunch added 18. Marquice Fifield chipped in with 14 points.
For the Black Knights, Karter Maupin led with 16 points while Jordan Morlock totaled 13.