Sumter waited 30 years to win a boys basketball state championship. The drought is over.
The Gamecocks got off to a sizzling start and had to hold off a late rally to defeat Hillcrest 61-55 Friday to claim the Class 4A state championship at Colonial Life Arena.
Brandon Parker scored 18 points, with Cedric Rembert adding 14 and Micah McBride chipping in 11. The victory gives Sumter its fourth championship but first since 1985.
“This championship is not for me, it’s for the kids,” said Jo Jo English, who won two as a prep star at Lower Richland. “They put in more work than any group in the state of South Carolina. They persevered and won. My job was to help them get one, and they did. I really had very little to do with it.”
Sumter lost in the Lower State final each of the past two seasons, which the players said was a motivating factor.
“It motivated us,” Parker said. “We practiced real hard to win a state championship. Coach told us if we did that, we would win, and here we are. We had to do it.”
Hillcrest (26-3) lost for the second consecutive year and fourth time in title games to remain winless in championship games.
Sumter wasted nearly all of a 19-point first half lead but found enough resolve to hold on at the end. The Rams got within two points, 57-55 with 1:27 remaining and had the ball, but missed a 3-pointer before Parker added two free throws to push it to a two-possession game. The teams traded offensive possessions without scoring, and Charlie Richards slammed home a dunk to put a seal on the victory.
“I just told the kids to weather the storm,” English said.
Parker said the team never panicked.
“We’ve been in that situation before,” he said. “We had to make our free throws, play defense and it would all work out.”
It was a hot start that allowed Sumter (20-7) to hang on. The Gamecocks shot 75 percent (15-of-20) from the field, including 4-of-7 on 3-pointers. McBride led the charge with 11 points, but he had help as Parker and Rembert added 10 each. Sumter never trailed.
“We wanted to come out energized,” Parker said. “In the locker room, the seniors stepped up and said this is the last game, this is how people will remember us.”
A week ago in the Lower State title game, Sumter jumped to a 19-1 lead after one quarter. It was almost the same script against Hillcrest.
The Gamecocks charged out of the gate on a 10-2 run and led 20-10 after one quarter on the strength of two of McBride’s 3-pointers.
The Rams, on the other hand, had trouble handling the ball. They had 10 turnovers in the first half that led to a 15-4 advantage by Sumter on points off turnovers.
Hillcrest stayed close with its ability to get to the free throw line. The Rams were 9-of-13 on free throws and had trimmed a 19-point second-quarter deficit to 11 points, but Marquise Moore made a halfcourt shot at the buzzer to give the Gamecocks a 39-25 lead at the half.
The Rams stayed within striking distance because of free throws. They made 22-of-32, while Sumter was 7-of-9.
Hillcrest All-State performers Tyler Hooker and Randall Shaw combined to go 0-for-9 on 3-pointers. Hooker finished with 20 points, and Shaw added 17, but it wasn’t enough for the second consecutive season.
“Collectively, I couldn’t ask for more,” Hillcrest coach Reggie Choplin said. “We won two tournaments, won an Upper State championship for the second year in a row, undefeated region season. This hurts but doesn’t diminish what we accomplished.”