Defending champion Heathwood Hall, Cardinal Newman and Hammond open the SCISA Class 3A state boys basketball tournament with quarterfinals games on Wednesday at the Sumter Civic Center.
Heathwood Hall and Cardinal Newman shared the Region 1 championship this season and earned preliminary round byes. Hammond beat Orangeburg Prep on Saturday to advance to the Elite Eight.
Heathwood Hall (18-5) went on a 15-1 run after falling to 3-4 with a loss to First Baptist in the semifinals of its own Midas Highlander Classic tournament on Dec. 28. The lone stumble since then came against Cardinal Newman, 70-56, on Jan. 20. The Highlanders avenged that setback with a 45-33 win in the Feb. 3 rematch.
Senior Joseph James, a four-year varsity veteran, enters the state tournament with 1,084 career points and a 16.6-point scoring average this season. The senior guard is also averaging 6.4 rebounds per outing. Bradley Singleton (10.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg), Shelton Whittaker (8.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Alex Bueno (7.6 ppg, 3.1 apg, 3.2 spg) are the other key contributors.
The Highlanders open against Wilson Hall at 8 p.m.
Cardinal Newman (21-6) will be highly motivated in its opener against Florence Christian at 3:30 to avoid its quarterfinal fate of a year ago – a disappointing loss to Wilson Hall.
The Cardinals are led by junior forward Austin Ajukwa, who is averaging 20.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game. Point guard Michael Collins (9.3 ppg, 3.4 apg, 2.0 spg), Matt Erdman (8.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Joe Armstrong (6.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and Jacob August (5.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg) provide Ajukwa with solid backing.
Hammond (14-11) whipped OP 59-37 to earn its first trip to Sumter since 2008. Eighth-grader Seventh Woods tallied a season-high 23 points in the preliminary round win and leads the team in scoring (14.0 ppg), assists (3.2 apg) and steals (4.5 spg) and is second on the squad in rebounding (5.8 rpg). Brandon Picow (11.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.2 apg) and Andrew McClam (8.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.7 apg) are the other Skyhawk leaders.