A year ago, Lower Richland lost four times to state championship bound Dreher, the final defeat coming in the Upper State championship game.
“You know, we just weren’t ready then to compete at that high level,” veteran Diamond Hornets coach Debbie Stroman said.
Things are different now.
Undefeated Lower Richland seized control of the Region 4-3A girls basketball race on Tuesday night with a 62-35 victory against Dreher at the Diamond Mine, completing a regular-season sweep of the Blue Devils. The Diamond Hornets (17-0, 6-0) have a two game lead and a tie-breaking edge with four left to play before the start of the state playoffs.
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“The big difference this year is we’re bringing a lot more good elements to the table,” Stroman said. “We start the game with five good players who have been with me for a while. We have some young talent coming off the bench and we don’t skip a beat when they go in.”
LR’s depth advantage was telling. It allowed the Diamond Hornets to keep up relentless, physical defensive pressure on the Blue Devils, who wore down under the strain in the second half.
The first half was a study in runs. Dreher opened with a 7-2 burst and had a 9-6 lead at the 3:49 mark of the first quarter, but then went nearly eight minutes without scoring while LR scored 20 unanswered points for a 26-9 lead.
The Blue Devils responded with a 13-3 surge in the final 4:02 of the first half to pull within 29-23 at halftime.
Lower Richland settled the issue by scoring the first 12 points of the third quarter, beginning with a 3-pointer from the right corner five seconds in by senior point guard Jasmine Richardson.
Richardson and junior center Breshay Johnson combined for 16 points in the 20-4 third-quarter performance. Richardson had nine of her 16 points, including two 3-pointers, in the fateful frame, while Johnson had seven points, four rebounds, and two assists.
“Jasmine had a good scoring night, but even when she doesn’t score she makes us go, makes things easy for everybody else,” Stroman said.
Johnson finished with a game-high 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting.
“We wanted to keep up the defensive pressure in the second half, but on offense we want to slow things down, look inside, look for good shots,” Stroman said. “Sometimes, we get out of control and too individually motivated. Tonight in the second half, we were one unit and it was something to see.”
The numbers tell the tale. The Diamond Hornets outscored the Blue Devils 33-12 after the break, converting 12 of 20 shots.
Kaydra Duckett led Dreher (15-6, 4-2) with 11 points, but eight came in the meaningless fourth quarter.
D: M. Johnson 2, Robinson 8, Hopkins 3, Dunlap 9, Kaydra Duckett 11, Starr 2. LR: Brown 9, Irving 7, King 1, Roach 3, Breshay Johnson 20, Jasmine Richardson 16, Washington 4, Hicklin 2.