From Staff Reports
The 2018-19 season came to a disappointing end for the Unicoi County High School boys basketball team on Monday, Feb. 25.
“It was a heartbreaking loss to lose the way that game ended,” head coach Michael Smith said.
The Blue Devils (9-24) traveled to Greeneville, the number one seed from District 2-AA, after taking fourth place in the District 1-AA tournament. Monday’s game was the first of the Region 1-AA tournament and was a win-or-go-home contest.
Against the Green Devils (20-10) on Monday, Unicoi County held a 19-16 lead after the first quarter, then trailed, 29-27, at halftime.
“I thought we did a pretty good job defensively knowing where their scorers were. We made them make tough shots,” Smith said. “When we ran our offense, we were able to get exactly what we wanted.”
By the end of the third quarter, Greeneville stretched its advantage to 5 points, 53-48, thanks to a three-pointer at the buzzer by Connor Debusk.
“We got down 9 in the third and cut it to 2 before they hit that three,” Smith said. “We didn’t play well early in the third quarter. Then, we settled in and started playing like we had in the first half.”
Greeneville extended the lead to 9 points, 64-55, with just under five minutes to play. The Blue Devils then put together a run to take the lead.
“We changed our defense from zone to man-to-man and we made them take some tough shots,” Smith said. “We were also aggressive offensively and made some big free throws during that run.”
Brett Lingerfelt hit two free throws to make the score 64-57 for 3:45 on the clock. Following a missed free throw by the Green Devils, Brock Thompson was fouled and converted two free throws, which cut the lead to 5 points, 64-59, with 3 minutes to play.
Unicoi County then forced a missed shot by Greeneville. On the ensuing possession, Austin O’Dell grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on the putback for a 64-61 score with just over 2 minutes to play. Greeneville failed to score again, and again, the Blue Devils took advantage. This time, O’Dell sank two free throws for a 64-63 score.
Blue Devil Gavin Casey then came away with a steal and was fouled on the other end of the floor. Casey hit both free throws and Unicoi County took a 65-64 lead with 1:18 to play.
“That was a great job by Gavin to get that steal and get to the basket,” Smith said.
Greeneville then reclaimed the lead, 66-65, with 44 seconds to play on a bucket by Jaevon Gillespie.
Despite almost losing possession to a 10-second call, the Blue Devils managed to maintain possession, which allowed Casey to find Thompson on a backdoor cut for a layup. Thompson was fouled and converted the three-point play for a 68-65 Blue Devil lead with 20 seconds to play.
“It was a called play and we executed it,” Smith said.
For their last chance for the win, Greeneville went to Gillespie, who dribbled to the corner and launched a three-pointer that fell short. However, an official called a foul on the play and awarded Gillespie three free throws with 3 seconds to play.
“There are numerous other calls throughout a game, but the calls at the end of a game are the ones everyone remembers,” Smith said. “For that call to have been made then was just heartbreaking. We had played so hard to get back in the game and take the lead.”
Gillespie, who scored 28 points in the game, hit all three free throws, giving his team the cushion it needed to win the game and advance to the region semifinals. The Green Devils won the game, 71-68.
Thompson scored 22 points and had 6 rebounds in the loss to Greeneville. Casey scored 12. Caleb Adkins scored 8. O’Dell scored 8 and had 5 rebounds. Lingerfelt scored 7 (1 three-pointer) and had 4 assists. Ty Thelen scored 6 (2 three-pointers) and had 4 assists. Phoenix Holt scored 5.
Also on Monday, Johnson County defeated Chuckey-Doak, 62-47, in Afton. The Longhorns will play Elizabethton, who defeated Grainger, 48-41, on Monday, in the region semifinals at 4:30 p.m. at Happy Valley on Wednesday, Feb. 27.
Greeneville will play Sullivan South, who defeated South Greene, 79-70, on Saturday, Feb. 23, on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
The Region 1-AA championship game will be played at Happy Valley on Friday, March 1, at 7 p.m.
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The Blue Devils fell to Johnson County, 67-58, in the consolation game of the District 1-AA tournament on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at Happy Valley.
Despite trailing most of the game, the Longhorns put together a 23 point fourth quarter, outscoring the Blue Devils by 13 points, to get the win.
“I thought we played well most of the game,” Smith said. “We didn’t close out the game like we needed to. Turnovers really hurt us in the fourth quarter.”
Casey had 16 points (1 three-pointer), 6 rebounds and 4 steals in the loss. Thompson had 13 (3 three-pointers). Danny Lowery scored 12. Lingerfelt scored 8 (2 three-pointers) and had 4 assists. Adkins scored 4 and had 5 rebounds. Thelen had 3 (1 three-pointer). O’Dell scored 2.
Thompson was selected to the District 1-AA tournament team.
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The loss to Greeneville was the final game for Blue Devil seniors Austin O’Dell, Danny Lowery, Ty Thelen and Gavin Casey.
“They have the program going in the right direction for us,” Smith said. “They did a great job leading us this season. They are a great bunch of guys.”
Despite the loss and a tough season, Smith said he was proud of this group of Blue Devils.
“We didn’t have the season that we wanted to have, but we got it turned around late,” he said. “We played our best basketball at tournament time. We got some big wins in the district tournament and we were able to advance to the region. I don’t think there were a lot of people who thought we would make it to the region, but we did because our guys didn’t give up on the season.”