Blue Devils get revenge in Volunteer rematch | Sport

The Volunteers ended the Unicoi County men’s basketball team’s 2021–22 season and the Falcons defeated the top-seeded Blue Devils in the District 1-AAA championship game on February 21.

And top scorer Grant Hensley failed to score in a 64-55 loss to the Volunteers in the district championship. So 48 hours before the rematch in Conference 1-AAA finals, after Hensley scored 26 points in an impressive 59-51 win against two-time defending state champion Greeneville, he essentially guaranteed the Devils a win in the conference championship.

“This is revenge on the Volunteers,” said Hensley. “They shouldn’t beat us in the district championship. They don’t beat us anymore. They knocked us out last season. It’s really personal.”

Hensley said. He scored 14 points to fast-track three double-pointers and the Blue Devils lost 56-36 to the Volunteers in the Region 1-AAA championship on Thursday at the Treadway Gym in Elizabethton.

It was the Devils’ first turf title since 2011.

The Falcons held out for the half, but Unicoi County started the third quarter with a bang 15-2. Hensley’s pull-up from 14 feet marked it out and gave the Blue Devils a 39-21 lead with 2:16 left in the third quarter.

“When we spoke last night, one comment Grant made to the team and I was, ‘This one is personal,’” said Unicoi County coach Jordan Simmons. “When we played them in the district tournament, he had one field goal attempt and zero points against the Volunteers. So we reminded him about it the last few days. So he went out and was much more aggressive, going for the punches.”

Senior guard Eli Johnson scored 12 points for Unicoi County.

“We’ve worked hard trying to get here for years, and we finally did,” Johnson said. “It feels great. They beat us last time. We had our own motivation to come here and get them tonight.”

Senior post Lucas Slagle matched Johnson’s 12 points. Freshman point guard Jackson Simmons made key baskets en route to finishing with seven points.

“Grant has really stepped up,” said Jackson Simmons. “He has shown that – I think he is the best player in that area.”

The Volunteers, who bounced back to go on the road and triumph at Halls in the sectional, were heavy-legged after a grueling double overtime win against Tennessee High in the semifinals.

“I told (Volunteer coach) Zac Crawford, ‘Your kids are tired,’” says Jordan Simmons. “They have to play a play-in game (in the districts). They had a double overtime match with Tennessee High in (district semifinals) and they had to play Tennessee High in (district semifinals). I think in the second half their legs got a bit tired, and the fact our guys stepped up, they couldn’t recover.

The Blue Devils seem to have the toughest task in the regional semifinals. But Hensley scored 13 of his game-high 26 points as he helped Unicoi County edge Greeneville 23-16 in the fourth quarter to secure its first section spot (Sweet 16) since 2018.

“All Grant knew was basketball,” said Jordan Simmons. “That’s all his family knew—was basketball, and Unicoi County basketball. So for him to have a night like this to give us a chance to play for another championship and substate (section), it’s just a kid taking his time to get what he deserves.

Greeneville senior guard Adjatay Dabbs scored 21 points, including a 3-pointer that put him up 41-40 with 6:21 left. Hensley, however, countered with a 3-pointer to give the Blue Devils the lead for good with 5:32 left.

“We were completely locked out,” Hensley said. “They ended our season twice. So it must be revenge. This is what we’ve been waiting for.”

Johnson and Simmons scored nine and eight points respectively.

Greeneville coach Brad Woolsey said the Blue Devils’ defense was impressive. Unicoi County played man-to-man defense in the first half and plenty of overturned two-triangle play on Dabbs and talented 6-foot-7 newcomer Trey Thompson (18 points) in the second.

“Coach Simmons did a great job of keeping us in balance by changing the defense in the second half,” said Woolsey. “Hensley is huge for them. He made a tough game after a tough game. Slagle was a beast on the board and caused us trouble all night.

Securing the Sweet 16 spot at the expense of the two-time reigning state champion is real. The anchorage is the pre-season destination for the Blue Devils.

“The people in our locker room never stop believing,” said Simmons. “They know what kind of team we have, what we are capable of. I thought it was a great night for Unicoi County basketball.

All Region 1-AAA

MVP — Grant Hensley, Unicoi County

Lucas Slagle (Unicoi County), Eli Johnson (Unicoi County) Jackson Simmons (Unicoi County), Mason Hensley (Unicoi County), Andrew Knittel (Volunteer), Joltin Harrison (Volunteer), Bradin Minton (Volunteer), Adjatay Dabbs (Greeneville) , Zander Phillips (Tennessee High).

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