Dreher is serving notice that it will be a tough team when the Class 3A playoffs begin Feb. 18.
Playing in front an overflow, enthusiastic home crowd, the Blue Devils used a dominant second half to win the Region 4-3A title and earn a No. 1 seed in the playoffs with a 52-46 victory over rival A.C. Flora on Friday night.
Junior Tevin Mack scored 28 points, and DeAndre Nathaniel chipped in 12 to rally the Blue Devils from a 13-point first-half deficit.
The victory allows Dreher to stay at home during the first three rounds of the playoffs if it keeps winning. They would not have to go on the road until the state semifinals at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville.
“It’s big for us to win the region,” Dreher coach Jeff DiBattisto said.
“That was one of our goals at the beginning of the season and, hopefully, it will be huge for us to be at home in the playoffs. We have the best student section in the state and they provide a home-court advantage. It’s a big reward for winning a tough region.”
The Blue Devils (15-5, 9-1) trailed 24-16 at the half due to woeful performance in the offensive end. Dreher finished 4-of-22 from the field, and without Mack scoring 11 points in the first two quarters, it could have found themselves down more.
But they wiped that deficit away with a lockdown defensive effort in the third quarter. They limited A.C. Flora to 2-of-9 from the field and forced five turnovers.
That allowed the Mack and Nathaniel to get out on the break, and the shots there were missing in the first half began finding the bottom of the net. Dreher outscored the Falcons 15-5 to take a 31-29 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“They got a ton in transition against us in the first half,” DiBattisto said. “We started to cut that away and get stops and that allowed us to get out and run a little bit.”
The onslaught continued into the fourth quarter. Mack and Grayson Stiglbauer combined to score the Blue Devils’ first 12 points of a period that saw the lead reach 43-33 with 4:12 remaining.
But A.C. Flora (15-9, 8-3) wouldn’t go away, despite the fact stars Rion Davis and Karl Gamble combined for 10 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
Diquan Day-Grant scored 11 of his 25 points in a two-minute stretch to pull the Falcons within 49-44 with 1:10 remaining. They got within 50-46 on a James Murray Boyles’ layup with 30 seconds remaining, but were limited to one shot the rest of the way.
“Tevin was fantastic, and Nathaniel was good at the point, then Stiglbauer may have played his best game at Dreher,” DiBattisto said. “Grayson picked up three charges, I think. We don’t win the game without those guys’ effort.”
Mack thought the Blue Devils would rally after the poor first half.
“In the first half, we did kind of bad, being down eight, so we knew we had to come out strong in the second half, and a lot of guys stepped up. It was a team effort,” Mack said. “We made the shots we were supposed to in the second half. We missed a lot of easy layups in the first half, but the second half, we made those plays.”
A.C. Flora coach Leon Brunson was almost at a loss for words. Dreher shot 26 more free throws than A.C. Flora, and he thought the officiating changed drastically in the second half, and that seemed to rattle his team.
The Falcons were whistled for two technical fouls, including one in the fourth quarter for yelling at the Dreher student section.
“The tempo of the game changed,” Brunson said. “Things got called and they were blowing the whistle more. That started taking us out of our rhythm because we didn’t know how to guard anymore.”
Dreher finished the 22-of-36 (Mack was 12-for-12) from the free-throw line, while A.C. Flora was 6-of-10.
“Our whole thing is we want to make more than our opponents shoot,” DiBattisto said. “We’re trying to get to the line. We need to knock some more down when we do.”