By JESSE SMITHEY
MURFREESBORO — All state tournament long, Greeneville senior point guard Connor Debusk proved his worth.
Maybe he wasn’t the Mr. Basketball finalist of the team.
Maybe he wasn’t the all-state sharpshooter.
But he never backed down from the competition.
And now he will go down as one of the most legendary players in Greeneville basketball history.
His 3-pointer from the corner with 15 seconds left — and a clutch rebound by Jakobi Gillespie in the final seconds — lifted Greeneville to its first state championship in program history on Saturday at MTSU’s Murphy Center.
The Greene Devils (31-6) won 47-46, defeating a favored Jackson South Side program that went 32-0 last season and entered Saturday’s finale at 26-1. Greeneville won its three state tournament games this week by a combined 10 points.
Gillespie, a junior guard, didn’t win Mr. Basketball on Saturday, but he won state-tournament MVP with his 17 points against South Side and his 22.7 points per game in three state games.
Reid Satterfield led Greeneville on Saturday with 19 points, thanks to going 11-for-12 at the free-throw line.
Debusk had seven points, and he was the first player to get his hands on the gold ball.
“Connor’s mentality is not just a tournament mentality. He has the same mentality year-round, whether it’s the weight room, whether it’s open gym, whatever it is, his effort is always there. His execution is always there. And his heart is there,” said Greeneville coach Brad Woolsey.
“That’s the biggest thing: his heart is there. When you put all those things together, it’s crazy to me that he hit the shot. That he was the guy. That he knocked knock. It was an unbelievable feeling for me, because I see all the work that he has put in over the years. For him to step up on the biggest stage … in the biggest game, I mean, is unreal. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Greeneville led 30-15 at halftime, having set the pace from the onset. But, predictably, South Side turned up the defensive pressure coming out of the half.
They rattled Greeneville, forcing seven Greene Devil turnovers in the third quarter. Greeneville, which had only eight turnovers in the first half, watched its lead dwindle to 34-33 with 1 minute, 30 seconds left in the third.
Satterfield scored five points — including a big 3 — down the stretch, though, to help the Greene Devils take a 39-34 lead into the fourth. But he got his fourth foul in the opening minute of the fourth.
South Side took advantage, taking their first lead on a transition bucket with 4:25 to go.
Gillespie stole the lead right back with a 3, putting Greeneville ahead 44-42 at the 4:02 mark.
South Side tied the game with 1:39 remaining, and Gillespie got two point-blank looks on the Greeneville end but couldn’t convert.
Satterfield also missed a bank shot on the following possession, as Greeneville faced a 45-44 deficit.
Greeneville’s grasp on the title was weakening.
The Hawks left the door open for a Greeneville win, though, missing two foul shots. That gave Greeneville the ball with 43.3 ticks remaining, and Woolsey called timeout.
The Greeneville Devils ran some 20-25 seconds off the clock, looking for the perfect shot. Satterfield couldn’t get a 3 off. He passed to Gillespie, who got double-teamed and passed back to Satterfield.
The swing pass then went to Debusk in the corner.
That put Greeneville ahead 47-45 with 15 seconds to go.
“I was standing in the corner, and I was ready to shoot. I was glad Reid passed it to me,” said Debusk, who finished the week 1-f0r-6 at the 3-point line. “I believe he could have hit it, too.
“It’s something every little kid dreams of, hitting that shot on the big stage, I guess. It was a great feeling to hit that shot and get our first state championship for our school. It was amazing.”
South Side got the line on the other end but only made one of two foul shots. They shot 10 of 17 at the free-throw line Saturday.
Gillespie went to the free-throw line on the ensuing possession, looking to build a three-point lead with 3 seconds left.
While he hit back iron on the foul shot, Gillespie instinctively chased down the rebound and ran out the clock.
Elation ensued. After going 4-for-19 from the floor in the second half with 10 turnovers, the Greene Devils had just enough to clinch the win.
Getting off to a solid start was imperative in Greeneville’s, as South Side’s offense could erupt at any moment — evidenced by their 36-5 run to start their semifinal win against Kingston.
Satterfield ensured Greeneville got on steady footing. He scored eight points in the first quarter, keyed by making three free throws after being fouled on a 3-pointer and also making a 3 in the first quarter.
“I think (that start) just showed us what we could do if we just go out and play and not think,” said Satterfield. “I think the past couple of games we all have just thought too much. And we went out in the first half and just played.”
Greeneville led 15-7 after eight minutes, and the Greene Devils pushed that advantage to 22-11 on a deep Gillespie 3-pointer from the left wing in transition with 4:25 left in the half and then his slash to the bucket on the ensuing possession.
Satterfield got fouled on a 3-point try again with 55 seconds left in the half, and he sank two of his three foul shots to make it 28-13 Greeneville.
Gillespie’s layup at the first-half buzzer made for a 30-15 lead. He and Satterfield each had 12 by the break.
The Greene Devils achieved just what they wanted in the first half, to control the pace with lengthy offensive possessions and keep South Side in check.
While those calm waters got choppy in the second half, Greeneville concluded its season with a 17-game win streak.
“At halftime, we talked about: ‘Be ready for the pressure,'” said Woolsey. “I said, ‘They’re coming.’ And sure enough they did.
“I don’t think we handled it very well. We could have been a lot better in that regard. But I don’t feel like I have to settle them down. They’re even-keeled and they believe — and that makes it nice as a coach.”