Irmo has earned its No. 1 ranking in the state and the No. 23 spot in USA Today’s Super 25 thanks in part to a stellar defense that has shut down teams.
They did it again Tuesday night against Spring Valley in a 88-54 beatdown of the 10th-ranked team in the state.
But if Yellow Jackets continue to have the offensive output they showed against the Vikings, then the rest of the state might need to take notice with the playoffs one week away.
Justin McKie led with 18 points, and post players Amir Ealey and Javis Howard added 12 apiece while Detrek Browning pitched in 10 points for Irmo.
Irmo coach Tim Whipple liked what he saw after watching his team struggle on offense for much of the season. He was pleased with the effort of Ealey, Howard, Javante Gross and Kyle Ferguson on the interior. Those four combined for 35 points.
“Our post play has been key for us,” Whipple said. “Our perimeter players have been ready every game. If our inside game starts contributing like they did tonight, then we’re pretty good offensively.”
Spring Valley coach Perry Dozier has seen teams have success against his post players all season long.
“We get killed in the post,” he said. “Even in games we win, we give a lot of points up in the post. We have to find a way to correct that.”
Much like they did in the first outing against the Vikings, the Yellow Jackets (23-0, 9-0 Region 4-4A) jumped to an early lead and never trailed.
Browning had two 3-pointers in the opening four minutes, and Irmo led 13-6 after one quarter. Spring Valley (15-9, 6-3) was dominating the offensive glass but shot 3-of-16 from the field in the opening quarter. The Vikings have made a habit of falling into early deficits and having to battle back — even in wins.
“We spotted them an early lead, and that has been our downfall this year,” Dozier said. “You can’t take anything away from Irmo though. They are very aggressive, disciplined and make you play their game. I thought we took good shots, they just didn’t fall for us. I know they have a good defense, but I don’t think that is what hurt us.”
The Yellow Jackets’ second quarter was even more impressive.
McKie scored 10 points in the quarter as Irmo made 9-of-14 from the field. Spring Valley was only marginally better than the first quarter, making 4-of-11 shots but turning it over eight times against a half-court press. Irmo opened the quarter on a 17-4 run, and Spring Valley never got closer than 16 the rest of the way.
“What was really good is defensively, we made it tough for them early,” Whipple said. “They were missing some shots, and that allowed us to loosen up a little bit. If they had made those shots and we get behind, we might play a different. Getting that lead early with our defense and then making shots was key for us.”
Irmo shot a blistering 62 percent (33-for-53) from the field. Spring Valley made 50 percent of its shots in the second half, but it wasn’t enough. They finished 22-for-57 but was 7-for-27 (25.9 percent) in the first half.
“You have to be able to take away a team’s strength,” Whipple said. “That’s what our goal is defensively. If we’re able to do that, we’re are a good enough defensive team that we can create a lot of problems.”
PJ Dozier finished with a game-high 21 points, and Kenneth Legette and Dominique Taylor added 11 apiece. Only five Spring Valley players scored.
“The first half is probably the lowest percentage we’ve ever shot,” Dozier said. “It was one of things where the shots didn’t start falling until the second half, and at that point it was too late.”
Irmo has the No. 1 seed in the region wrapped up and is looking to finish off an unbeaten regular season at Lugoff-Elgin on Friday night.
Spring Valley has lost two in a row and needs to win against rival Richland Northeast to finish second and host a first-round playoff game. The Vikings hold a one-game lead on RNE, but if they lose on Friday, they would be tied and it would have to go to points in non-conference play to determine the second-place finisher.
“The only way we can get second by ourselves is to win,” Dozier said. “We put ourselves up against the wall like that.”