Two weeks ago when Irmo handed coach Tim Whipple his 600th career win, it came in a close call with Lexington. In fact, it was a four-point difference in a game that came down to the wire.
The rematch was not so close. Detrek Browning scored 22 points and led the defensive effort with nine steals as the top-ranked Yellow Jackets routed the Wildcats 65-40 Friday night at home.
Irmo finished with 18 steals and turned in one of its better offensive performances of the season.
“Our defense has been what has helped us compensate for a struggling offense,” Whipple said. “Offensively, we just aren’t finding ways to get things done but our defense is making our offense a lot better.”
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That was the case against Lexington. Browning constantly interrupted the passing lanes and most of his steals turned into easy points on the offensive end.
Browning is taking over the point guard spot from Jordan Roper, a Clemson freshman who has seen time off the bench for the Tigers. It is the first time Browning had played the point but he has been a quick learner.
“You’re talking about an individual that has never been a point in his entire life and comes into his senior year and has to change positions,” Whipple said. “We talked about it and he wanted to do it and doesn’t have a problem with it but it’s a huge adjustment. All the little things you learn through the development of being a point in our system normally is learned over a three- or four-year period. Detrek has had to do it all in one year.
“I’m extremely proud of what he’s done because he’s made a huge sacrifice to be our point guard because it’s taken away a lot of things he can do for us offensively. He’s had to reinvent himself and he’s done a pretty good job in doing it.”
Browning partnered with Justin McKie to form a formidable duo against the Wildcats. McKie, a South Carolina commitment, set the tone early by scoring the first eight points and adding an assist to give the Yellow Jackets (8-0) a 10-6 lead. He finished with 15 points.
“Justin plays with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement,” Whipple said. “We don’t have the energy we should have out on the floor and Justin helps supply it a lot of times.”
Lexington’s Grant Hendrix almost single-handily kept the Wildcats (7-3) close. He came off the bench and connected on four of five 3-pointers and had 14 points as Lexington held an 18-16 advantage after one quarter.
But over the next three periods, Lexington scored 22 points and finished with 25 turnovers.
“They were aggressive and physical and we backed down,” Lexington coach Bailey Harris said. “We handed it to them. They were physical and aggressive and did what they were supposed to. It’s as simple as that.”
Browning scored 13 first-half points and McKie had 10 as Irmo grabbed a 29-24 lead. The Yellow Jackets extended the lead to 43-30 at the end of the third quarter and continued to build the lead until they emptied the bench. Javis Howard, JeVante Gross and Alex Quillen hit big shots as Irmo finished 28-of-48 from the field. A lot of those field goals were layups after steals.
“I was pleased with what we were able to do,” Whipple said.
The turnovers were troublesome for Harris. The Wildcats lost their starting point guard in the preseason to a broken collarbone, and Nygel Gates came off the bench after suffering an injured leg last Saturday. It added up to a poor performance outside of the hot shooting by Hendrix in the opening quarter.
“Grant hits a couple of 3’s to get us back in it but we backed down,” Harris said. “We had a stretch in the third quarter where we had seven turnovers in eight possessions with five different people turning it over. Needless to say, turnovers have been a issue.”
L: Grant Hendrix 14, Branham 5, Morris 4, Gates 4, Spence 4, Davis 2, Stokes 2, Hunter 2, Blake 2, Katz 1. I: Detrek Browning 22, Justin McKie 15, Gross 8, Howard 7, Quillen 5, Hill 3, Barrett 3, Small 2.