Seemingly finished on several occasions in regulation, and then failing to close the deal in the first overtime, the Rebels got a tough game-winning shot from Cole Layne in the final seconds of the second overtime for a 63-61 win at the Dyer Dome on Tuesday night.
It gave South (28-4) its first district crown since the 1984 team won in Class AAA.
“It’s unbelievable,” said South head coach Michael McMeans, a former standout player for the Rebels. “It has been forever and this school has been waiting a long time. This was maybe the best high school game I’ve ever been a part of. I’m just proud of our kids. We hung in there. We had all kinds of kids make plays tonight.”
None of those plays was bigger than Layne’s dagger. He took a pitch coming off the right wing and dribbled to the foul line for a pull-up jumper. His shot grazed the left side of the rim and fell through, leaving only enough time for an Elizabethton heave from 70 feet.
“I knew it was true,” said Layne. “It felt good. It feels great to hit that shot (to win the district).”
Layne’s interview was concluded by a sea of hearty Rebels’ fans chanting “MVP! MVP!” and mobbing Layne in a tremendous show of school spirit. The gym was packed on both sides and the fans for both teams cheered and shouted throughout the back-and-forth affair. Layne finished with 26 points and was chosen as the district MVP.
Elizabethton’s Jake Roberts made two of three free throws to tie the game with 30 seconds to go, setting the stage for Layne.
“When adults get out of the way and let kids have fun, I thought it was great,” said McMeans.
South will play at home in Saturday’s region quarterfinal against Claiborne at 7 p.m. Elizabethton will play host to South Greene.
In Tuesday’s third-place game, Sullivan East got a dramatic buzzer-beating 3-pointer — the Patriots’ 18th trey of the contest — from Ethan Bradford to edge Unicoi County, 83-82. East will travel to play Grainger while the Blue Devils will visit District 2-AA champion Greeneville.
HOW THE REBELS GOT THERE
South was fighting an uphill battle throughout the second half after entering the locker room with a 28-17 deficit. It looked like the Cyclones were going to put it away, but Camden Necessary made a short bank shot with four seconds left in regulation to force the first overtime.
The Rebels were in command in the first overtime, taking advantage of Elizabethton’s foul situation with Parker Hughes and Nico Ashley both on the bench with five personals. South led 57-55, but couldn’t cash the deal from the charity stripe.
Elizabethton’s Donta Earnest was fouled while shooting with 1.1 left on the clock. The sophomore, who Cyclones’ coach Lucas Honeycutt described as a defensive standout, calmly made both pressure free throws to force a second overtime.
“That’s just tough,” said Honeycutt. “We just kept giving ourselves a chance. The ball went in for them. That’s the way it goes.”
South had only four players score, and three of them combined for 61 of the 63 points. Necessary finished with 18 points in an impressive performance in the paint. Ben Diamond added 17 points.
For Elizabethton, Ashley led the way with 15 points. Roberts added 13 while William Willocks totaled 11.
Sullivan East 83
Unicoi County 82
After a steal by Brett Lingerfelt when East was trying to hold for the final shot, the Blue Devils went ahead on Lingerfelt’s free throws.
But Bradford drained a trey from the right corner to give the Patriots the win.
Bradford made a school-record nine 3-pointers and finished with 29 points. Dylan Bartley added 20 points while Mason Montgomery totaled 13.
Brock Thompson hit eight treys for Unicoi — which connected on 14 for the game — and finished with 38 points. Lucas Slagle added 15.