The Irmo boys basketball team struggled Tuesday to put away pesky Ridge View, a group the Yellow Jackets trounced by 42 points less than a month ago.
But with the lead hovering around three in the closing minutes, Devontae Shuler did enough to lift his teammates to a 65-51 victory.
“I realized I wasn’t making any shots,” he said, “so I had to play defense and the game just came to me.”
The sophomore finished with 18 points, six assists and three steals. But while he struggled to find his shot, he found a way to make an impact late.
With his team up 53-50, Shuler netted assists on three straight possessions, added a vicious block on the other end of the floor and netted three free throws – including one with his team up 64-61 with less than five seconds to play – to seal the win.
“He’s tough, he’s one of the best players of the state,” Ridge View coach John Combs said. “And he commands so much attention not by just the guy guarding him, but all the helpside people. And it’s hard to keep him in front of them.”
The Yellow Jackets (10-3) won their eighth straight game despite several turnovers and poor play on the defensive interior.
Irmo’s struggles gave Ridge View (6-6) a chance to keep pace. Justin Alewine gave the Blazers a 13-11 lead at the end of the first quarter with a deep, buzzer-beating 3-pointer before the post presence of Lamondre Corely – who finished with a team-high 18 points – pushed the lead near 10 midway through the second quarter.
“We had a bad game,” Shuler said. “We did real bad on rebounding, missing free throws. But somehow we found a way. ... They had the momentum the whole game.”
The Yellow Jackets took a 32-30 advantage into halftime thanks to three free throws from Dre’Von Sweat, who was fouled on a 3-pointer with less than a second to go. Shuler upped the lead to double digits at the start of the fourth on a 4-point play.
“We were never able to pull away,” Irmo coach Tim Whipple said. “We did a good job of getting back in the lead at halftime, and I think that was the key to the game. Had we not put ourselves in a better position going into the second half, we really would have been in a lot of trouble.”
I: Devontae Shuler 18, Dre’von Sweat 14, Gunn 8, Brice 6, Magwood 5, Boyd 5, Bond 4, Jones 3, Wilson 2. RV: Lamondre Corely 18, Justin Alewine 15, Dextor Foster 15, Hopkins 8, Mason 3, Lewis 2.