1-AA to have Devil of a final

Douglas Fritz • Feb 25, 2014 at 10:57 PM

GREENEVILLE — There was a gaping hole in the middle of the defense, and Keith Arrowood spent the entire game exploiting it.

Unicoi County's senior guard soared for a career-high 25 points — adding nine rebounds and six assists — as the Blue Devils crushed Johnson County 72-50 in the semifinals of the Region 1-AA basketball tournament Tuesday night at Hal Henard Gym.

In the other semifinal Trevor Wright provided a thrilling end to an ultra-tight game, getting an old-fashioned three-point play with 8.5 seconds left to give Greeneville a 53-50 win over Elizabethton.

The Greene Devils (23-9) will play the Blue Devils (26-6) in Thursday's championship game at 7 p.m.

Both teams not only reached the title game, but also secured spots in Monday's sectional round. It is the seventh straight time — and eighth in nine years — for Unicoi head coach John English, who sat out last season for a one-year leave of absence.

After finishing third in last week's district tournament, including a loss to Johnson County, the Blue Devils saved their season by avenging that loss.

“Absolutely,” said English. “This is what it's about, tournament time. That's what the season is about. From Day 1, they've talked about getting to the substate. They have bigger goals than that, but you have to get there first.”

Early in the game, Unicoi's guards — especially Arrowood — dribbled into the lane without much resistance. They got off a lot of easy shots, made some, missed some, and Unicoi got some offensive rebounds.

“In the district game, we didn't attack,” said English. “That's all we talked about coming into this game. We wanted to get in the paint and work from there.”

It was a pattern that repeated itself throughout the contest.

“I was just reading the defense,” said Arrowood. “I read it and got in there.”

For a Twitter interview with Arrowood, follow Douglas Fritz @FritzBlitzzz.

Unicoi initially took control of the game in the second quarter with a 10-0 run to earn a 29-16 edge. However, Johnson County closed the half strong and trailed only 33-29 at the break.

The Longhorns battled within one at 34-33 early in the third quarter, but dribble penetration broke them down again. This time, Arrowood and Ethan Rice were dribbling into the lane and dishing the ball to the posts.

In a stretch of 1:08, Rice had two assists and a bucket. That was followed by Arrowood scoring six points as the Blue Devils closed the third quarter with a 9-0 run to enter the fourth with a 49-36 edge.

Arrowood was also getting things done at the other end of the court.

“When we went to a box-in-one on (Chase) Phillips, he didn't score the last quarter,” said English. “Arrowood was covering him, and he did a great job. He gave effort on both ends of the court and came up huge.”

Unicoi also got big games from Lucas Hensley, who totaled 14 points and six rebounds, and Rice, who finished with 13 points and six assists.

“This keeps us alive, all eight seniors,” said Arrowood. “We want to go to Murfreesboro for the first time with Coach English.”

Brian Dempsey led the Longhorns with 23 points and seven rebounds. Phillips added 12 points.

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