A.C. Flora coach Leon Brunson could hardly contain his excitement as the final seconds ticked off during the Falcons’ 63-54 victory against Lower Richland on Friday night on the Diamonds’ home floor.
As far back as Brunson could recall, A.C. Flora had never won at Lower Richland. He was certain they had never won since they became region 4-3A rivals or during his coaching tenure. He felt as though he witnessed his team come of age in a hostile environment.
“It was brought to my attention by my administration and athletics director that since we’ve been in the region we’ve never beat LR at Lower Richland,” Brunson said. “I told that to the kids and they didn’t realize how big of a challenge it was for them. They stepped up to the challenge. They kept their poise and are beginning to learn from their failures. I’m going to be honest. They grew up tonight. I hope they don’t regress, and continue to make progress, but I believe they grew up tonight.”
Junior Rion Davis maybe grew up more than the rest. Davis is zoned to attend Lower Richland but elected to attend A.C. Flora (8-5, 3-0) for school and athletic reasons, he said.
Playing against friends he played rec ball with, Davis blitzed them for 27 points, including six points during an 8-0 closing spurt that sealed the win. Neither team led by more than three points in the second half until Davis sank two free throws with 58 seconds remaining to make it 59-54.
“We wanted to make history,” Davis said. “I couldn’t let my team down. I’m the captain of the team, and it was on my shoulders to lead us back to take the ‘W’ tonight. Winning here means a lot to me.”
Lower Richland coach Willie Thomas felt Davis was the difference.
“Davis is tough and has that desire to get it done,” Thomas said. “He put his team on his back. Rion Davis beat us tonight. We pride ourselves on defense, and we were just getting out of the way and letting hm go to the rack. We have to get tougher and grow up.”
The Diamonds faltered in the final two-and-a-half minutes. They went 0-for-6 from the free throw line, 1-for-10 from the field and turned it over once during that time. The Falcons went 6-for-9 from the free throw line and added a Davis layup to account for the final eight points.
“If you’re going to be a champion, you have to make free throws and rebound,” Thomas said. “They killed us on the boards with a lot of offensive put-backs and then they made their free throws at the end when the game was tight.:
The biggest lead in the opening 30 minutes came in the first half when the Falcons led by seven points behind the efforts of Davis and Karl Gamble. They each scored 11 points, with most of them coming in the paint. They helped dominate the offensive glass and turned missed shots into easy layups. Gamble finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
“We wanted to rely heavily on getting a lot of paint touches, and we wanted them to be aggressive and attack the basket,” Brunson said. “That calms us down and keeps us on an even keel.”
Lower Richland (7-5, 1-1) had a balanced attack with Jared Richardson and Kelvin Washington each scoring 14 points to lead four players in double figures. But the Diamonds have one returning starter while the Falcons countered with an experienced squad that is ranked No. 10 in the latest SCBCA poll. That experience showed up with the game on the line and allowed the Falcons to improve to 3-0 in a region that has three teams ranked in the poll.
“I think this is the most competitive region in Columbia, maybe even the state,” Brunson said. “It’s anybody’s for the taking. One setback can determine where you finish at the end. I’m really, really proud of our effort. They are really growing up.”