Irmo coach Tim Whipple has had to take it slow with a young group of players who had little varsity experience before this season.
In the non-region portion of the schedule, he’s focused more on what the Yellow Jackets do instead of what their opponents’ tendencies are because he didn’t want to overload them with too much information.
Now that region play has begun, Whipple has talked more about the opponents. That paid off in a big way Tuesday night in the Region 5-4A opener as Irmo frustrated a more experienced White Knoll team in the fourth quarter to cruise to a 57-39 win in a battle of top ten Class 4A teams.
The Yellow Jackets trailed by one early in the final quarter before scoring the final 19 points.
“We had an idea of what they try to do offensively,” Whipple said. “For the first time this year, we actually talked about what another team does because I didn’t feel like we were mature enough and ready. I didn’t want to clutter their mind with stuff. But as the game went on, they were getting a little fatigued but our guys just kept competing and we got some loose balls and we got some steals and turned them into easy baskets on the offensive end.”
It was a meltdown for the Timberwolves after three quarters of solid play. They fought back from an early 12-point deficit to take a 28-26 lead at halftime. They maintained the lead for much of the third quarter and led 38-36 thanks to TJ Knight scoring eight of his team-high 11 points in the period.
But a free throw by Najee Garvin with 7:20 remaining would be the final points for White Knoll (11-6, 0-1). The Timberwolves went 0-for-5 from the field with 10 turnovers in the final quarter.
“When it’s time to grind out a fourth quarter game, you have to be patient and move the ball side to side. It was a lack of leadership from a standpoint of just having not being there before,” White Knoll coach Jason Cochcroft said. “Irmo has developed a habit of winning, so winning is a habit just like losing is a habit. These are the kind of games we have to start winning.”
Irmo (12-3, 1-0) could do little wrong on that closing 19-0 run.
Sophomore sensation Devontae Shuler scored eight of his game-high 18 points in the fourth quarter, but it was the contributions of juniors Tavonne Bond and Dre’Von Sweat that provided a huge lift.
Sweat began the quarter by making two free throws after being fouled on a 3-pointer attempt. Two possessions later, he drilled a three-point basket to give the Yellow Jackets the lead for good with 6:56 remaining. Sweat connected again from long range to extend the lead to 48-39 before Bond sealed things with a three-point play to make it 51-39 with 2:14 remaining.
Bond make three 3-pointers and Sweat added his two in the fourth quarter to open things up for the Irmo offense.
“Both of them made some key 3-pointers, which really sealed the game,” Whipple said. “Tavonne has been working really hard on his shooting, and Dre’von is someone we depend on to make shots. He missed his first couple of ones, then made two big ones in the fourth quarter.”
The first half consisted of both teams going on huge runs. Irmo opened the game on a 16-4 spurt and led 20-10 after one quarter. But White Knoll responded with a 20-4 run to take the two-point lead at the intermission.
After a back-and-forth third quarter, White Knoll seemed listless in suffering its second straight loss. The lack of effort has left Cochcroft searching for solutions to making his team more consistent.
“We’ve been up and down all year,” he said. “We’ll play three quarters with good effort then one quarter without any leadership or effort. Or we will play a really tough game and not come back and follow it up. We need to figure it out quickly.”