A.C. Flora took care of business on Tuesday night in a 61-44 victory over Lower Richland to put itself in the position it wants to be in.
After losing two of their first three Region 4-3A games, the Falcons have gone on a seven-game winning streak to set themselves up for a first-place showdown with Dreher on Friday night.
A.C. Flora is a game back of the Blue Devils in the loss column with two games remaining. Dreher has three games remaining, including the contest with the Falcons on Friday, and Lower Richland on Saturday.
“This has to be one of the toughest regions in basketball,” A.C. Flora coach Leon Brunson said. “We’re putting ourselves in position to do something special. We have to keep battling and keep grinding. The kids are starting to believe in what they can do and believing in each other. That’s scary.”
Strong defense was the difference against the Diamonds. The Falcons used a 10-1 run over the final 5:39 of the first half to take a 26-16 lead they would not relinquish. Karl Gamble, who had a game-high 21 points, ignited the run with a dunk, blocked shot and layup in a 15-second span.
But it was lockdown defense that made Brunson proud. The Falcons limited Lower Richland (11-9, 4-4) to 6-of-19 shooting in the first half and forced 14 turnovers. The Falcons had their own issues in the first half with nine turnovers, but they shot 10-of-17 from the field to build the 10-point lead.
“They’re buying into playing defense,” Brunson said. “We did a great job of taking away the driving lanes, which limited their offense to the perimeter. Being able to keep them out of the paint was key. Their guards do some really good things but we took that away.”
Lower Richland got within 45-42 on a Brandon Stroman 3-pointer, his fourth of the game., with 5:15 remaining. The Diamonds got a steal and had two chances to tie the score, but two 3-point attempts came up empty. Flora (15-8, 8-2) closed the game on a 16-2 run.
“Even when L-R had the run, we withstood it and kept our poise,” Brunson said. “That is what I’m most proud of.”
Lower Richland coach Willie Thomas has a lack of seniors, and he thought that showed in a tight game on the road.
“Our youth doesn’t really understand how to win,” Thomas said. “I’m not sure if we thought we needed that 3-pointer at that time. We just needed to continue to get closer. We don’t have many confidence shooters. Stroman shoots it pretty good, and some ninth-graders can shoot it. But in this situation, the basket gets smaller, and we struggle.”
The Diamonds were 4-for-20 from the field in the fourth quarter, including 1-for-12 over the final five minutes.
“We find it tough to score in the half-court,” Thomas said. “We don’t have that big post presence. We like to get out in transition, but we missed a lot of opportunities. We would turn them over then turn it back over. If we can overcome those situations, we’ll be OK.”
A.C. Flora took advantage of the sluggish shooting at the end. Gamble started the closing run with two free throws before James Murray-Boyles and Rion Davis dominated in the paint. A.C. Flora connected on six of its final seven shots and rarely attempted anything outside of the paint.
“Getting into the paint is like running the football,” Brunson said. “The team that can the football wins. If you can get it in the paint, you have more opportunities to win games.”
Davis added 15, with 11 coming in the first half. Murray-Boyles scored 13 for the Falcons.
LR: Brandon Stroman 20, Richardson 8, Myers 6, Washington 6, Nuttry 2, Collins 2. ACF: Karl Gamble 21, Rion Davis 15, James Murray-Boyles 13, Grant 6, Davis 4, Baker 2.