Defending Class 3A champion A.C. Flora captured a second consecutive Upper State title on Monday at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, notching a 77-49 win over Lower Richland to earn a return trip to the state finals.
The Falcons led by four points at the start of the fourth quarter but posted 32 points in the final seven minutes.
“It comes down to preparation,” A.C. Flora coach Josh Staley said. “These guys have been practicing like champions the last six weeks. They have bought into everything that I’ve told them, so we’re not surprised when they pull away at the end of games, because they have prepared so well.”
The two squads had squared off twice in regular season play, and the Falcons (24-4) won both contests by a total of 10 points. Staley and the Falcons expected the fight from Lower Richland that they got in the first three quarters.
“We just wanted to make sure we stayed consistent throughout,” Staley said. “Lower Richland played really well early. They were gritty, they were playing hard, and we just wanted to make sure that we took advantage of every scoring opportunity we got, and we did that tonight.”
Diamond Hornets senior leader Jared Richardson posted 12 points, and sophomore Carlos Nuttry joined him in double-digit scoring with 10 points.
But Falcons senior Rion Davis powered A.C. Flora with 23 points, taking over in the fourth quarter.
Flora led by seven going into the final session, and Lower Richland opened with a 3-pointer from sophomore Alex Caldwell to make it a two-possession game.
“We’ve been down by more than that in the previous games, so we knew we still had a chance,” Burnitz said. But the Diamond Hornets could not close the gap.
“I thought we played extremely timid and scared, and I didn’t know why. My guys got frustrated, and you can’t get frustrated. You’ve got to keep playing. They got frustrated, so they didn’t perform as well. And when you do that against Flora, you look up and, boom, they’re up by 10, they’re up by 20.”
Consecutive buckets from Davis touched off a 19-6 scoring run for the Falcons that put the game out of reach with 2:42 remaining.
Davis scored 14 points in the period before going to bench
Falcons sophomore reserve guard Kejuan Boyce hit a 3-pointer at the last second to set the final score.
“To get here with this team of young guys, I couldn’t be prouder, but the only hurt is that I’m losing my senior Jared Richardson,” said Lower Richland coach Mark Burnitz, whose team survived three games on the road as a No. 3 seed.
Both teams had come out strong, and Lower Richland briefly held the lead at the game’s start, but Davis put the Falcons on the board with a free throw, starting a 10-point swing that put the Falcons in front for good.
Tyler Gray grabbed the long rebound off Davis’ missed second free throw, and tossed it back up for the Falcons’ first field goal of the game. A layup from Davis put the Falcons in front for the first time, 7-6, after five minutes.
In the next minute, five points off back-to-back buckets from James Reese gave the Falcons a 14-8 lead. But a Brian Jones layup and a triple from CJ Nuttry nearly erased the Falcons’ advantage in the final minute of the session.
It was a one-point game going into the second quarter, and at halftime AC Flora was in front, 29-26.