Fast-improving Lower Richland took sole possession of first place in Region 4-3A with a 52-37 victory against A.C. Flora on Tuesday at The Diamond Mine.
The Diamond Hornets (8-6, 4-0) are starting to put it together under new coach Willie Thomas.
“Right now, it seems that the guys are buying into what we’re trying to do,” said Thomas, who guided three schools to six state championship game appearances and five titles before arriving in Hopkins.
“So, it’s a lot better than it was at the beginning of the season, but we still have a long way to go, still have a lot of improving to do. Tonight, we did some good things.”
Lower Richland was patient and balanced on offense, shot the ball well (21-for-42, 50 percent), dominated the boards, especially in the second half, and made the Falcons uncomfortable with its pressure man-to-man defense.
The Diamond Hornets targeted Matthew Howard with defenders taking turns at hounding the Flora senior ace. Howard never seemed to find a rhythm and finished with 11 points on 5-for-15 shooting.
“Our intent was to keep the pressure on (Howard),” Thomas said. “We know he’s a good player, but we wanted to wear him down and make him work to get his shots. For the most part, we did a pretty good job.”
Vincent Hicklin led LR with 15 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. The 6-foot-6 senior center scored eight of his points in the fourth quarter.
“Vincent’s starting to understand that when he’s patient and not forcing things, the game will come to him,” Thomas said.
Hicklin had solid support from Marcus Edmond and Brandon Stroman, who scored 14 and nine points, respectively. Sophomore guard Nathan Hart did not score, but his solid floor game was key. Cedric Davis and Alonzon Gibson combined for nine points to complement Hicklin inside.
The Diamond Hornets seized command with an 12-4 run over the final 6:15 of the second quarter for a 25-20 lead at the break. Hart facilitated the move with four assists. LR never relinquished the lead after Stroman hit a 3-pointer from the left corner at 1:55 of the second.
“I thought we played pretty well on defense, but we just didn’t execute offensively,” said Flora coach Leon Brunson, whose team dropped to 11-6, 3-1.
“In a big game like this, the team that wins is the team that is the most disciplined. We lost our discipline tonight.”
Rion Davis led the Falcons with 14 points.
ACF: Grant 5, Rion Davis 14, Boyles 2, Gray 2, Matthew Howard 11, Whittaker 2, Gamble 1. LR: Marcus Edmond 12, Stroman 9, Gibson 4, Vincent Hicklin 15, Taylor 3, Myers 3, Davis 5.