Tournament MVP Jaevon Gillespie put the pedal down in the fourth quarter on Friday night and the Greene Devils raced to a 61-58 win over Johnson County for the Region 1-AA boys basketball championship at Happy Valley High School.
Gillespie, the grandson of NHRA world champion drag racer Allen Johnson, scored 21 points as the Greene Devils built a nine-point lead and then held off a furious Johnson County rally to claim their first region title since 2014.
He scored 12 of his team's 24 points in the fourth quarter. He also had a task of slowing down Johnson County's Mr. Basketball finalist Blake Atwood, who still finished with a game-high 27 points.
"We had to stop Atwood. He's a great player and a great shooter," said Gillespie, also a running back on Greeneville's state championship football team. "In the fourth quarter, I started taking the ball to the hole and finishing. Now we're just one more win from making it to the state."
Greeneville (22-10), which also got 13 points from Connor DeBusk and seven from Tyler Marsh, will host Austin-East in Monday's sectional round with a berth to the state tournament on the line. The Longhorns (27-6) will travel to Fulton.
The first three quarters in front of a packed Bayless Gym saw neither team gain more than a two-possession advantage. Johnson County led 8-6 at the end of one quarter and Greeneville had a 21-20 lead at the half. Playing even through the next eight minutes, Greeneville clung to a 37-36 lead heading into the final period.
Gillespie's free throw with a minute to go gave the Devils a 58-49 lead. A trio of 3-point goals by Zach Eller, Gavin Reece and Atwood in the final 60 seconds made for the tight score.
Despite the loss, the Longhorns have made it to the sectional round for the first time since 2003. Eller came up with 12 points for Johnson County and Reece added eight. However, the Longhorns faced an uphill battle as the Devils forced 18 turnovers.
"They just do a good job guarding the ball," Johnson County coach Austin Atwood said. "Whenever we were open, it was hard to get a pass out anywhere. We had some good schemes, whether it was pick and roll or attack baseline. They deflected some of those we get on most people.
"They're one of the top five defensive teams in the state. Now with Fulton, we have to be ready to play the best defensive team in the state in (Class) double-A."
The Greene Devils have hit their stride after getting players from the football team back on the court. Even after that, they had to overcome the loss of star player Dorien Goddard, who enrolled early at the University of Virginia.
Greeneville coach Brad Woolsey had praise for Gillespie and his teammates for battling through the setbacks to get to the championship.
"The dude (Gillespie) is a tireless worker in the weight room and on the floor," Greeneville coach Brad Woolsey said. "He's always communicating and doing all the little things in practice that a coach wants.
"For us to win the region, it's huge because we've been through a lot of adversity this year with having to wait on our football players and Dorien leaving. We constantly tried to figure things out, but the kids held together and we finished the region the right way."