Spring Valley coach Perry Dozier looked down his bench at the start of the season-opener against Irmo and saw three key contributors in street clothes.
His son P.J. Dozier, a consensus top-50 player and a South Carolina commitment, missed the contest after having his surgically repaired knee scoped a few weeks before the start of the season. Junior Jordan Bruner, a highly skilled prospect in the 2016 class, is out for an undetermined amount of time after undergoing knee surgery last week. Kendall Wall didn’t suit up but is expected back within a week or so.
But none of that mattered as Noah Harper scored 17 points and transfer Malik Dunbar chipped in 13 points to lead the second-ranked Vikings to a 65-60 victory against the Yellow Jackets on Tuesday night. It was the first time Spring Valley has defeated Irmo in Dozier’s nine-plus seasons at the helm.
“People don’t have a clue to how hard this win was,” Dozier said. “I’m more than happy (for the win), but I can’t enjoy it, because of what I saw. It’s not really anything to be excited about, but it is the first time we’ve beaten Irmo since I’ve been here. To do it without those three guys will help us down the road.”
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P.J. Dozier, who missed his entire junior season after having surgery for a torn ACL, wanted to play against the Yellow Jackets but Perry thought it best they wait until he’s fully cleared. The younger Dozier is expected back within a week.
“He wanted to play tonight, but we’re going to take our time in getting him back,” Perry said. “They went in and cleaned up his knee. He had some flakes in there, so it wasn’t major. He was bouncing around the day after they did it.”
Spring Valley (1-0) hardly missed a beat without the three starters in a showdown of top-10 programs. Neither team led by more than seven points in the first half before the Vikings put together a 13-2 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters to build a 52-39 lead.
Marcus Hollaway started the run with a jumper and Harper added a layup after a steal. Dunbar, a transfer from North Augusta, tipped in a miss and Ja’lon Williams added a layup.
KJ Legette opened the fourth quarter with a jumper before Holloway capped the quick run with a stick-back basket.
“We did some good things with a lot of different guys contributing,” Dozier said.
But Irmo (2-2) didn’t go away quietly. Sophomore Devontae Shuler and junior Tavonne Bond combined to score 16 points over the final six minutes to pull the Yellow Jackets back within 62-60 with 1:06 remaining. Irmo had two chances to tie it after the Vikings missed three-of-four free throws but a turnover and missed 3-pointer by Shuler ended the comeback attempt.
Longtime Irmo coach Tim Whipple liked the fight in his young team that must replace all five starters from a team that reached the Upper State finals a season ago and won the title two years ago. Shuler, a dynamic point guard who likely will be one of the state’s top prospects in 2017, finished with 24 points despite having an off shooting night. Bond and junior Trae Magwood each chipped in with 15 for the Yellow Jackets.
“I hope everybody understands we’re not the team we’ve been for the last four years,” Whipple said. “This is going to be a work in progress. I’m excited about it, though. I think we can be a good team before it’s all said and done but, right now, we’re going to struggle. I’ve been spoiled. In my career, I’ve never had a team that didn’t have a single starter coming back.”
I – Devontae Shuler 24, Tavonne Bond 15, Trae Magwood 15, Boyd 3, Sweat 2, Gunn 1. SV – Noah Harper 17, Malik Dunbar 13, Jaylan Roberson 10, Legette 6, Williams 7, Hollaway 7, Wall 5. Rec: SV 1-0, I 2-2.