Irmo boys basketball coach Tim Whipple is usually one to contain his emotions. But with less than 10 seconds remaining in the Classic II championship game of the Chick-fil-A Classic, he pumped his fist and slapped hands with senior David Frazier.
He had good reason to be ecstatic. The Yellow Jackets pulled out a 56-50 victory against Memphis Central on Thursday night to become the first Midlands-area team since 2004 to claim a title in the nationally recognized tournament.
“From a coaching standpoint, it’s a bundle of nerves that you have been holding back and holding back that eventually releases,” Whipple said. “It’s fun to release it every once in a while. I got a little emotional at the end. I was pumped up.”
Irmo (7-1) led nearly the entire game and never wilted under the height advantage the Warriors enjoyed in the paint. Irmo junior point guard Jordan Roper scored 20 points, and senior forward David Frazier chipped in 11.
Roper opened the game with a 3-pointer, and the only time Irmo trailed was following a dunk by 6-foot-5 Memphis Central junior guard Dre Applewhite early in the first half. Applewhite, a guard who is considering Missouri, Auburn, Mississippi and Marquette, got into early foul and played only 17 minutes and scored four points.
The Yellow Jackets tied it on a free throw by Dominic Shuler at the 11:51 mark and took the lead for good on Roper’s jumper with 11:43 remaining.
“No matter what happened, we stayed positive and kept battling and fighting and were able to stay ahead that whole time,” Whipple said. “As long as that happened, there was never any panic.”
The Yellow Jackets took a 31-25 lead into halftime and built it to as many as 10 before Memphis Central mounted a comeback behind 6-8 junior forward Jarnell Stokes and 6-7 senior center Cameron Clear.
Stokes, the ninth-ranked junior in the country by Rivals, scored 22 points and had 12 rebounds. Clear, a top-ranked offensive lineman class, added 15 points and 12 rebounds.
They bullied their way inside and kept the Warriors within striking distance. But the closest they got was 51-48 on Stokes’ putback with 3:22 remaining.
Memphis Central (9-3) had a chance to tie it, but Joshua Jones missed a 3-pointer from the wing. Roper then put the dagger in with a jumper on the Yellow Jackets’ next possession, and Irmo sealed it at the free throw line.
“We could never get over the hump,” Memphis Central coach Andre Applewhite said. “They took us out of what we wanted to do and did a better job executing on both ends. They plain and simple outworked us.”
Roper, who lost out on the tournament MVP award to Stokes despite averaging 17.6 points over three games, believes Irmo learned a lot about itself during the tournament. A year ago, the team didn’t win a game in the Chick-fil-A before making it to the second round of the Class 4A playoffs.
“To make it back this year with basically the same guys and to win it all is a great feeling,” Roper said. “This builds our confidence. We understand that if we keep working, we can reach any level we want.”
Added Whipple: “I’m so proud how much we’ve grown up over the last three days. We’re a different team than we were last week. That’s what I think is so good about playing in a tournament like this. We learned a huge lesson over the last three days, and if we can remember that, we’ll be in great shape.”
I — Jordan Roper 20, David Frazier 11, Je. Clinkscales 6, Jo. Clinkscales 6, Browning 8, Shuler 5. MC — Jarnell Stokes 22, Cameron Clear 15, Applewhite 4, Johnson 9.