Region 4-2A champion Keenan hosts Region 3 champion Newberry in an all-Midlands showdown in the Class 2A state boys basketball quarterfinals on Wednesday at the Raiders Cove.
The winner advances to the Upper State championship game on Saturday at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville.
Keenan (18-8) is finally playing with a full deck after spending most of December trying to find the right combinations in the wake of injuries and disciplinary issues that kept a number of experienced players on the sidelines. Now, the Raiders are at full strength and focused on returning to the state title bout for the first time since 2001.
The return of seniors Bradley Smith and Jacob Green has afforded Keenan coach Zach Norris more depth and lineup flexibility. Smith is a force inside, and Green provides toughness and leadership in the backcourt.
The Raiders enter the game on a serious roll, winning 13 of their last 14 games since closing December with a win over Strom Thurmond at their own Taco Bell Invitational tournament. The only stumble since then was a region loss to archrival Eau Claire.
Keenan boasts an impressive postseason report card. The Raiders stand at 54-22 in the playoffs, currently tied with Hemingway for third place on the all-time postseason win list behind Calhoun County (66) and Great Falls (83). Keenan claimed state championships in 1975 and 1991, but the program has risen to the elite level since then, starting in 1999. Over the past 12 seasons, the Raiders have been to the finals three times (winning back-to-back 3A championships in 2000-01), advanced to the semifinals seven times and failed to reach at least the third round only once.
Newberry (16-9) has also been hot since coming out of December, winning 11 of 12 since coming out of the holiday break, including a 9-1 run to the outright region championship. The Bulldogs avenged a region loss to Strom Thurmond and locked up the title with a 58-56 win over the Rebels. Free throws in crunch time by Jay Bethea and Marcus McNorris helped seal the deal, as did two rebounds by McNorris in the final minute in the wake of Rebel misfires. Arkiem Young set the pace for the Bulldogs with 26 points despite being held scoreless in the third quarter.
Newberry, which has won four region titles under coach Chad Cary, is a balanced scoring team, but Young was the top gun in eight of the Bulldogs’ 10 region outings.
But while region success has been established under Cary, Newberry has not been a serious player in the postseason for the most part. Since reaching the 3A state championship game in 1999 (losing to Fairfield Central), the Bulldogs have made it as far as the third round just two times – this season and in 2007 when Newberry reached the Upper State title bout (losing to Southside).