Greeneville spent the first half missing the broad side of a barn, but on the defensive end stayed in front of Unicoi County’s guards all night. When shooting became a plus for the Greene Devils, the Region 1-AA basketball championship was the reward.
The Greene Devils outlasted the Blue Devils 49-44 on Thursday night at Hal Henard Gym.
Winning its first region since a 2006 Class AAA championship, Greeneville improved to 24-9 and earned a home sectional game Monday against Christian Academy of Knoxville (21-12)
Unicoi (26-7) will travel to take on high-scoring Strawberry Plains Carter, which improved to 25-7 by knocking off CAK 77-73 in the Region 2-AA final.
With a big advantage in the post, Unicoi worked that angle early and often and built a 23-16 lead. It probably would have been at least a satisfying halftime edge, but Hays Culbreth dialed 911 from trey country for the rescue buzzer beater to make it 23-19 at the break.
“That was huge,” said Greeneville head coach Brad Woolsey. “If Hays doesn’t make that basket, I don’t know if it would have gotten in our heads.”
Culbreth’s shot seemed to loosen the entire team, especially Trevor Wright. In the third quarter, the Greene Devils’ senior guard knocked down a trey ball to get started. Then he made a difficult 12-footer over a hand and drew the foul.
And at the buzzer, Wright dribbled the clock down to three seconds before ripping a 28-foot trey bomb to give Greeneville a 37-33 edge.
“Trevor is a big-shot maker,” said Woolsey. “And he did a yeoman’s job offensively, defensively, and on the boards.”
Unicoi head coach John English said the Blue Devils knew they had to keep an eye on Wright.
“We tried to be very aware of him,” said English. “Sometimes a great player makes plays like that.”
During the third quarter, the Blue Devils struggled to score, going 5:03 before Connor Simpson broke the ice.
“Five minutes in a game like this is a long drought,” said English.
Unicoi twice battled back in the fourth quarter. First, the Blue Devils tied the game on a bucket from Nic Chambers to make it 37-37.
Then Keith Arrowood scored on a baseline drive to pull Unicoi within 40-39 with 5:25 remaining. But it was a tough shot, something Arrowood and Ethan Rice experienced all night.
“Keith and Ethan were not able to get by, and you have to give Greeneville credit for good defense,” said English. “They are quick, athletic and tough, and they did a good job staying in front.”
Culbreth hit a giant 3-pointer with 3:06 left in the game to make it 45-39, but Rice answered with a long trey delivery to pull Unicoi within three at the 2:25 mark.
On the Blue Devils’ next possession, Arrowood made a spinning twister to make it 45-44 with 1:41 to go.
Unicoi fouled Culbreth with 58 seconds left, and he made both tosses.
Down the stretch, J.J. Benjamin got two big defensive rebounds and made 2 of 4 free throw attempts to seal the win.
Culbreth, who led all scorers with 13 points, said the Greene Devils won the region title with athletes.
“We’ve got so many athletes, and we’ve got that much speed, it’s tough to compete with,” he said.
Anton Almqvist added 10 points for Greeneville while Wright had nine points, six rebounds and three assists. Benjamin added six points and seven rebounds.
Unicoi got 11 points and six rebounds from Simpson. Chambers added 10 points while Arrowood finished with eight.
“We’re still alive,” said English. “We’ve got 32 minutes to get to where we want to get.”
Unicoi fell to 2-6 in region championship games under English. The losses were by 5, 2, 5, 2, 25 and 5 points.