AFTON — Unicoi County absolutely owned the first three minutes of the second half, and Greeneville had no answer.
The Blue Devils scored the first 12 points of the third quarter and rode the momentum — along with Trevor Shelton’s 27 points — to a 76-63 victory in the Region 1-AA semifinals at Chuckey-Doak’s gym on Tuesday night.
Earning its sixth consecutive berth in the region finals — and the sectional slot that goes along with it — Unicoi improved to 28-4 and will play Sullivan East (24-8) in Thursday’s championship at 7 p.m.
Postseason experience seemed to help the Blue Devils quite a bit.
“We’ve got guys who have been in that situation,” said head coach John English. “Our experience in the district, region and substate; these are poised kids. And this was a matter of our season being on the line. I’m just proud of them.”
In the other semifinal, Sullivan East held off South Greene 63-48.
Greeneville’s quickness was a major problem for Unicoi throughout the game. After a 12-2 Blue Devils’ run to start the game, Greeneville’s spurt stretched to 22-9 and Unicoi was a little bit off-balance.
Defense was an issue for the Blue Devils in that stretch as they were beaten in the heart of the lane and by Greeneville getting offensive rebounds.
“We had a lapse, and you just can’t have those kind of lapses,” said English. “Greeneville took advantage of it.”
After the Greene Devils took a 31-29 lead into the locker room, the Blue Devils roared out of the third-quarter gates.
“The lack of effort at the end of the first half drove us to getting off to a good start in the second half,” said Shelton, who scored the first bucket to begin the explosion.
Austin Hensley then drained a trey, Shelton scored again, and Lucas Hensley followed with another three-dagger. When Shelton scored again it was 41-31, and Greeneville — despite never quitting — could not recover.
A 13-5 start to the fourth quarter put the game on ice, even though Greeneville kept poking the ball away and stealing rebounds and forcing turnovers. The Blue Devils finished with 20 turnovers.
“Greeneville is the quickest, scrappiest team we’ve played,” said Shelton. “Every time we got the ball, we had to be strong with no weak stuff. It was totally different than the regular season.”
Shelton’s point total put him over the 1,000 mark for his career.
“I didn’t have a clue,” said Shelton. “It’s a nice accomplishment, but the team accomplishments throughout the year are more meaningful to me.”
One thing Greeneville couldn’t do was handle the Blue Devils on the boards. Unicoi crushed the Greene Devils 48-26. Austin Hensley led with 14 rebounds, Ethan Rice added nine, and Shelton and Lucas Hensley had eight apiece.
Trevor Ford led Greeneville with 15 points, but got just three after halftime as Unicoi switched Issac Harris to guard him.
“Issac has been an absolute stopper,” said English. “I can’t say enough about that kid every game.”
Landon Duncan added 14 for the Greene Devils, who finished 18-13.
Sullivan East 63
South Greene 48
The Patriots left the door open for just a little bit in the second half, but they held on for the win.
“We had total control of the game, and then we let No. 4 hit those two threes,” said East head coach John Dyer. “Then it was a fight the rest of the way. Our guys hung in there tough.”
Chance Davis led the Patriots with 18 points while Jonathan King totaled 11.
“Big John was the difference tonight,” said Dyer. “He was a difference-maker, and Chance put us on his shoulders early.”
Now the Patriots will meet the Blue Devils for the fifth time this season. They split four games this season, and have evenly split 12 games over the past three years.
“This is like Dobyns-Bennett vs. Science Hill when both of those teams were incredibly good,” said Dyer.
South Greene was led in scoring by Landon Collins and Charlie Baker who had 12 points apiece.