To say that Irmo coach Tim Whipple was unhappy Friday night would be an understatement. The longtime Yellow Jackets coach was not pleased with the way his team was playing from the opening tip in its Region 4-4A contest with Blythewood.
The No. 1-ranked team in the state in Class 4A and No. 23 in the country, according to USA Today, was letting the visiting Bengals hang around too much for Whipple’s liking.
The message he was trying to send found its mark. Irmo turned in a dominating second half and ran away to a 77-53 victory, its 20th in a row this season.
“Part of the problem is we’ve been inconsistent,” Whipple said. “I’m trying to get the guys to understand how good they could be if they just focus a little more. It’s a good thing, in a way, that you can have an easy victory and still feel as if you have a lot of ways to improve and get better. Obviously, we have a lot to learn still.”
The Bengals trailed by nine points in the first quarter but tied it at 17 early in the second on the strength of a 12-3 run. The Yellow Jackets responded with a 12-0 run to lead 29-17 but Blythewood closed the half by scoring the final six points to trail 36-28 at the break.
In the second half, Whipple seldom got out of his seat on the bench. During a Blythewood time out, he walked away from the huddle and let his team discuss the situation. At the end of the third quarter, he again walked to the end of the bench and gave his team a chance to build the leadership that Whipple feels is lacking even though Irmo is unbeaten with four regular-season games remaining.
“From a coaching standpoint, you can only say so much,” Whipple said. “Unless you have leadership, the coach can’t do it all. You have to have guys out there that understand what has to be done and how to do things. That was their time.”
The message was received. The Yellow Jackets limited the Bengals (9-11, 2-4) to one field goal in the third quarter and that came with 36 seconds remaining. They forced seven turnovers and held Blythewood to 1-of-9 shooting from the field as they opened the second half on a 15-0 run.
Detrek Browning began the run with a 3-pointer. Justin McKie, who finished with a game-high 18 points, scored four during the spurt. Ryan Favor, who had nine points off the bench, scored the final five points of the quarter. Whipple substituted liberally and benched his starters with more than five minutes remaining when the lead had reached 32 points.
“We played better in the second half, obviously, but why were we in the situation to begin with?” Whipple asked. “I’m challenging them to be more focused and to understand how good they could be.”
First-year Blythewood coach Zeke Washington had seen this story before. His team played a close first half the during the first meeting this season only to wilt down the stretch.
“Last game, it was close at half and just like last time, Irmo took it to another level,” Washington said. “It looked like we weren’t able to match their intensity in the third quarter.”
Irmo also benefited in a tightly officiated game that saw 52 fouls called. The Yellow Jackets finished 25-of-43 from the free throw line while the Bengals were 15-of-25. Washington believes there is a reason Irmo was able to get to the line so often.
“They are a very, very, very physical team and I admire that,” Washington said. “I don’t take anything away from them. We’re striving to be just like that. They physically whipped us.”