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McMeans' Rebels off to best start in school history

Douglas Fritz • Jan 28, 2020 at 12:30 PM

Sullivan South has been one of the area’s best boys basketball teams this season, but the Rebels’ body of work probably hasn’t gotten the notice it deserves.

The Rebels are off to the best start in school history with a record of 20-3 heading into Tuesday’s game at Sullivan East. They haven’t lost to a Class AA team all season, and two of the setbacks were against David Crockett — a team the Rebels also defeated. The other loss was against Virginia’s Union.

“If you told me at the beginning of the year we would be 20-3, any coach in the area would take that,” said Rebels coach Michael McMeans. “But I kind of expected this bunch could do something like this. Every game we’ve been in it, and we expect to win. I’ve tried to instill that in these guys the past three years. You have to expect to win, and they’ve done a good job embracing that.”

South has back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time in 20 years and has a chance to threaten the all-time school record for victories in a season. That was 28, set in 1999-2000 when McMeans was a senior standout at South. The Rebels came within one win of reaching the state tournament, losing a heartbreaker against Oak Ridge in the sectional at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.

The Rebels are 8-0 in Three Rivers Conference play but faced a couple of serious challenges recently. They came from behind to beat Elizabethton, 57-51, and on Friday edged Unicoi County 69-65 with a strong finish.

One of the Rebels’ strengths is the consistent scoring of seniors Ben Diamond and Cole Layne. Both are averaging over 18 points per game, giving South a head start against most opponents.

“They are two really quick guards who handle the ball well,” McMeans said. “They do a good job beating their man off the dribble. And it’s not like they haven’t been guarded. Everybody focuses on trying to stop those two.

“We have a luxury because the moment is never too big for them. They aren’t afraid to take the big shots.”

The Rebels have seen box-in-1 looks, triangle-and-2 approaches and even some junk man defenses where other South players are almost unguarded.

But the Rebels have beaten those plans consistently thanks to complementary efforts from guys like Gannon Chase, Nick Ellege, Cooper Johnson, Camden Necessary, Ethan Bergeron and Caleb Lay. Chase and Necessary have provided rebounding and scoring, and Ellege is the Rebels’ top defensive player and also a 3-point threat.

“We’ve been successful because those other guys have stepped up and made plays,” McMeans said.

South can take a giant step toward closing out the regular-season title by beating East. But McMeans said he knows it won’t be easy.

“It will be extremely hard because of the way they’ve shot the ball lately,” said McMeans, noting the Patriots made 22 3-pointers in a recent win.

East averages 11 connected treys per game on 29 attempts.

PROVIDENCE MILESTONE

Providence Academy senior girls basketball player Christen Sholes reached the 1,000-point mark in Friday’s 55-43 setback against West Greene.

Sholes entered the game with 987 career points and scored 24 against the Lady Buffaloes.

BASKETBALL OVERVIEW

Boys highlight games

Tuesday — Tennessee High at Daniel Boone; Sullivan South at Sullivan East; Hampton at Sullivan North

Friday — Daniel Boone at Science Hill; Dobyns-Bennett at David Crockett; University High at Hampton; North Greene at Sullivan North

It’s a giant week for the Trailblazers, who face two rematches of games they lost by a combined total of seven points (60-58 to the Vikings, 68-63 to the Hilltoppers). ...

With five wins in its past six games, Sullivan North is making some Watauga Valley Conference noise. The Raiders have a prove-it week ahead. …

It’s also a big week for Hampton, which can take control of the Watauga Valley, or fall back into the pack.

Boys Top 10

Tennessee High is gaining stature, riding nine wins in its last 10 games and moving to No. 3 in this week’s rankings.

Team W-L Prv
1. Science Hill 22-2 1
2. Sullivan South 20-3 2
3. Tennessee High 17-7 4
4. Dobyns-Bennett 10-10 3
5. Daniel Boone 12-7 5
6. David Crockett 14-8 6
7. Hampton 16-8 7
8. Elizabethton 7-12 8
9. Sullivan East 12-12 9
10. Unicoi County 13-11 NR
(tie) University High 10-8 10

Girls highlight games

Tuesday — Cloudland at North Greene

Friday — Daniel Boone at Science Hill; Dobyns-Bennett at David Crockett; Unaka at Cloudland

Saturday —Jefferson County at Dobyns-Bennett

It’s a challenging week for Cloudland, which faces basically a must-win game Tuesday in terms on the Watauga Valley Conference race. ...

Daniel Boone will try to stand up stronger against a Science Hill team that beat the Lady Trailblazers by 38 points in the first meeting.

Girls Top 10

Daniel Boone rides a four-game winning streak into a one-spot move to No. 4 in this week’s rankings.

Team W-L Prv
1. Sullivan Central 21-2 1
2. Science Hill 15-7 2
3. Dobyns-Bennett 17-7 3
4. Daniel Boone 12-8 5
5. Cloudland 17-3 4
6. David Crockett 13-11 6
7. Sullivan East 15-9 7
8. Elizabethton 12-9 8
9. Volunteer 12-10 NR
10. Unicoi County 13-10 10
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