Irmo cemented its spot in the USA Today Top 25 with a dominating effort against Spring Valley on Tuesday night.
Justin McKie scored 23 points as the Yellow Jackets jumped on top early and defeated the Vikings, 79-61, in a Region 4-4A boys showdown.
Irmo (18-0, 4-0), the top-ranked team in Class 4A, was ranked No. 25 in the most recent USA Today Super 25 poll, and it didn’t take long to show why. It was the first time since the mid-90’s that the Yellow Jackets were ranked in the national poll.
McKie, a USC commitment, scored 11 points in the first quarter, and the Yellow Jackets connected on 10-of-18 shots in taking a 26-11 lead after eight minutes.
“Getting the early lead was extremely important, because if that game is back and forth, then anything could have happened because of the way they can score,” Irmo coach Tim Whipple said. “They are difficult to keep from scoring because they attack and go the offensive boards as good as anybody we’ve played. We limited that for the most part, and I felt like that was key.”
McKie said the game plan was to turn the Vikings’ style of play against them.
“They were real aggressive, and Coach told us to get a lot of back doors, attack and penetrate as much as possible and be smart,” the 6-foot-4 combo guard said. “We knocked down some shots early, and that was really key.”
Spring Valley (12-7, 3-1) was more tentative than normal, and some of that had to do with Dominique Taylor picking up two early fouls, then a third before the end of the first half. Taylor and sophomore PJ Dozier combined for nine points in the first half — when the game likely was decided. Taylor finished with 20 points and Dozier added 15, but it was not enough to overcome Irmo’s effort.
“They didn’t do much different than they normally do, we just didn’t attack,” Spring Valley coach Perry Dozier said. “That was the game plan. When you let a team feel good about themselves, they are hard to beat, especially a team as talented as Irmo. We didn’t come out with the same fire that they did.”
McKie wasn’t the only player contributing early.
Spring Valley did everything possible to keep Detrek Browning from hurting them on the offensive end, but that opened opportunities for other players. Browning had two points in the first half, but he finished with 12 points, seven assists, six rebounds and no turnovers.
That allowed Amir Ealey and Javis Howard to control the middle. Howard scored 12 points and pulled down six rebounds, and Ealey added eight points as the Yellow Jackets’ post players came up huge after being a secondary thought offensively early in the season.
“Amir got some charges early, some big baskets and rebounds and Javis did the same thing,” Whipple said. “That’s been the next step in our situation of struggling offensively at times. We need to get them where they are part of our offense, and they haven’t always been. They were huge tonight though.”
Irmo led by as many as 20 points in the first half and held a 41-26 advantage at the break. Taylor scored the first nine points of the second half for the Vikings, and they clawed back to within 43-35 early in the third quarter. But that was as close as they would get.
Irmo went on a quick 11-1 run to regain control. Browning completed a three-point play before Ealey scored on an easy layup. Kyle Ferguson, who started in place of an ill Jevante Gross, added a basket before McKie and Xavier Hill sank four free throws to push the lead back to 17.
The offensive explosion came as a relief for the Yellow Jackets. They gutted out a 42-34 win over Richland Northeast on Friday but shot 48 percent (27-of-56) and limited their turnovers Tuesday night.
“Our defense always gets us going, but when we can get our offense to go with our defense, I think it makes us a very good team,” McKie said.