The Rebels overcame a seven-point, second-half deficit to take a 69-66 victory. South improved to 29-4 on the season, setting a school record for wins.
South advanced to Thursday’s championship game against Greeneville, a 71-47 winner over South Greene, and earned a berth in next Monday’s sectional round. It is the school’s fourth-ever sectional berth and the first since back-to-back appearances in 1999 and 2000, when McMeans was a player.
“We wanted this one. We wanted the school record and that was one of our goals coming back this year,” South coach Michael McMeans said. “We wanted to get to the sub-state. That’s the most important thing.”
South trailed late before Ben Diamond’s free throws with 1:04 to go gave the Rebels a 65-64 lead. Cole Layne had a steal and layup on the next possession to put South up by three. Layne scored 15 points in the second half and 20 overall to lead the Rebels.
“They were about to pass and Nick (Ellege) tipped it away,” Layne said about his key steal. “As soon as I saw that ball, I don’t think I’ve ever run that fast in my life. I took off, went over there and grabbed it and tried not to go out of bounds.
“We were focusing on our defense. They are just as good shooters as (Sullivan) East and we knew we couldn’t let them score or shoot. We had to get out to the perimeter and get the defense to transition using our speed.”
After Grainger (16-17) scored to cut it to one, Gannon Chase made a pair of free throws with 6.1 seconds left for the final score. The Grizzlies missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer before the buzzer.
“I was thinking this is a very big moment, maybe the game-decider,” Chase said about his free throws. “I was thinking to clear my head, breathe, go through the emotions and shoot the free throws. My feet were locked and I was like in quicksand. I wanted to make sure I was shooting from the same spot both times.”
South struggled in the first half, trailing 38-34 at the break as the Grizzlies made eight shots behind the 3-point arc. Chase said the Rebels had to get a “downhill mentality” for the second half. It worked as they rallied to take a 53-49 lead after three quarters.
Ben Diamond added to the Rebels’ cause with a 16-point effort. He had given them an early 6-0 lead with back-to-back 3-point goals, but was slowed after being whistled for two quick fouls. Freshman Jackson Dean came in and made a pair of big 3-point goals before Diamond returned and made it rough on the Grizzlies.
“This is special. To break the school record and win 29 games and go to the sub-state in I don’t know how long, it’s special,” Diamond said. “That was our goal coming in, to win the district (tournament) and get to the sub-state. We want to win the region Thursday. These are our goals and it’s exciting to see us meeting them.”
Jaxon Williams paced Grainger with 17 points. Brody Grubb scored 15, followed by Tristan Warfield with 14.
Greeneville 71, South Greene 47
Reid Satterfield scored 17 points as the Greene Devils (24-6) simply had too much firepower for the Rebels (24-10).
Jakobi Gillespie came through with 14 points and Austin Loven tallied 10 in the Greeneville romp. Sully Fox netted 17 to lead the Rebels with Chandler Fillers the next highest scorer with seven.