A.C. Flora and Keenan – the preseason top-ranked boys teams in Class 3A and 2A, respectively – put on a classic worthy of late February or early March.
James Reese scored 22 points to pace five players in double figures as the Falcons hung on for an 86-79 overtime victory against the Raiders on Tuesday night.
“This is only going to help us,” first-year A.C. Flora coach Joshua Staley said. “Coach (Zach) Norris has done such a tremendous job. He’s been one of the gatekeepers of basketball in this city. We learned a lot from this game. It’s only going to make us better.”
A.C. Flora, the defending Class 3A champion, is learning Staley’s system, and is having to do it with early season adversity. Rion Davis played sparingly against Keenan because of a lingering ankle injury he suffered near the end of football season. James Murray-Boyles, one of the top five seniors in Class 3A as voted on by the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association, missed both games last week.
But Staley likes where his team is headed.
“It’s still a work in progress,” he said. “James Murray-Boyles and Rion Davis are so big in what we try to do. Rion’s not healthy. It’s no secret anymore. He’s being mature on the sideline, cheering his team on. I think, in about a week-and-a-half, he’ll be close to 100 percent.”
Murray-Boyles, who scored 10 points, fouled out with 5:32 remaining, so the Falcons had to pull out the victory without two of the stars that carried them to the state championship last season.
That’s where Reese, Karl Gamble, Kendale Hampton and Brandon Davis stepped in. The Falcons shot 76.6 percent (23-of-30) from the field in the second half and overtime and needed every one one of those baskets.
“I was so worried about stops, I couldn’t tell how many shots we were making,” Staley said. “I knew they were making shots, too, but it was nice to see the shooting drills pay off for us.”
The inability to play solid defense had Norris upset with his team’s tenacity. The Raiders dressed nine players. Kendric Gathers is practicing for the North-South All-Star football contest in Myrtle Beach this week, and Norris had three or four players in street clothes for discipline reasons.
“We weren’t defending and competing on the defensive end. We played pretty well offensively, but when you come down and your man is scoring against you – that’s a lack of effort,” he said. “They don’t want to work hard to get in shape. They have to buy in to the program and the system. It’s a growing process, but they have to learn if we’re going to be a championship team.”
Keenan (2-1) led by four at the half and stayed close despite A.C. Flora (3-0) shooting the lights out. The Falcons scored on 12 of 13 third-quarter possessions to turn a 32-28 deficit into a 56-49 lead.
The biggest lead by either team was seven points, with the Falcons holding a 58-51 advantage with a little more than seven minutes remaining in regulation. The Raiders closed the gap with strong play from Antwan Holmes (23 points) and Tariq Simmons (22 points) before JaQuan Osborne tied it at 72 with a 3-pointer with 1:49 remaining.
Keenan took a 74-72 lead on two free throws by Javontae Davis with 41 seconds remaining before Gamble, who added 19 points for the Falcons, tipped in a missed free throw with 24 seconds remaining to force overtime.
A.C. Flora never trailed in the extra period. Davis scored the first points of overtime and Resse, a sophomore, gave them the lead for good with a runner along the baseline.
“This is a good win for us,” Staley said. “Reese is growing up quickly. He’s just a sophomore. I told him in the preseason that he needs to step up, because we expect and need a lot from him. He’s done a good job so far.”
ACF – James Reese 22, Karl Gamble 19, Kendale Hampton 14, Brandon Davis 13, James Murray-Boyles 10, Gray 4, Hollingworth 4. K – Antwan Holmes 23, Tariq Simmons 22, Javontae Davis 14, Osborne 9, Marshall 7, Poole 2, Trapp 2.