Irmo boys basketball coach Tim Whipple was curious to see how his Yellow Jackets would respond after losing to Dorman last week in the championship game of a preseason tournament. That loss broke a 31-game winning streak that included a perfect season and a Class 4A championship state championship last season.
Any doubts were quieted for one night. Xavier Hill scored 19 points, and Jevante Gross chipped in 16 points to lead a balanced Irmo attack in a 77-56 victory against rival Dutch Fork in the regular-season opener Tuesday night.
The top-ranked Yellow Jackets had six players score at least nine points and dominated the glass in the resounding win.
“We made improvements in some areas that were, obviously, shown as weakness when we played in the the tip-off tournament,” the 33-year coaching veteran said. “One of the things that we talked about coming into the year is we have roles that have changed. We’re having guys struggling to come out of their comfort zone, but this was a step in the right direction.”
Two big runs gave Irmo (3-1) a comfortable margin. Dutch Fork came out blazing and was 6-for-6 on 3-pointers in the early going. The Silver Foxes held their biggest lead at 14-9 early in the first quarter, but the Yellow Jackets dominated the glass to gain control.
Will Jamison jump-started a 21-5 run that carried until early in the second quarter. Jamison scored five points to get the run started, and six players scored during the run. Jamison, freshman Devontae Shuler, Heyward Goodson and Gross connected on 3-pointers during the run.
Irmo was 14-for-28 from the field in the first half and held an 11-0 advantage on second-chance points in building a 40-24 lead at the half.
“We got good point production from some people, and that was a big difference than what we’ve seen early this year,” Whipple said. “I’m pleased with the progress we’re making and, hopefully, by the end of the year we will be playing our best basketball.”
Dutch Fork coach Matt Brown, who was without four players who are playing on the football team that will play for a state championship on Saturday, said the second-chance points were key early.
“I felt like we did a pretty bad job of boxing out on the defensive end,” Brown said “They were shooting lights-out, but when they missed they got the rebound and put it back up.”
The Silver Foxes (2-2) did close within nine points with 2:43 remaining in the third quarter but Irmo responded with a 16-5 spurt to make it a 20-point game heading into the fourth. They scored on the final seven possessions of the quarter to erase any doubts of the outcome.
Whipple called a time-out to settle a group that has five senior starters but not much experience.
“I don’t like calling time-outs, but this group needs it every once in a while to refocus, and we were able to do that,” Whipple said. “We were in control, but that was a time we could have lost control. Instead of it being a seven or eight point game going into the fourth quarter, it was twenty.”
Sterling Thomas and Freddie Poole led Dutch Fork with 13 points each.
DF – Sterling Thomas 13, Freddie Poole 13, Watson Harris 12, Davis 9, Williams 6, Mills 2, Maxwell 1. I – Xavier Hill 19, Jevante Gross 16, Howard 9, Shuler 9, Jamison 9, Goodson 9, Small 3, Jones 3.