A.C. Flora gathered itself at the free-throw line and salvaged a 68-63 victory against Travelers Rest on Tuesday in the first round of the Class 3A state basketball playoffs.
The Falcons cashed in 10 of their first 22 chances at the stripe before coming up big down the stretch. Flora needed a 13-for-14 effort at the line in the final 2:19 to subdue the Devildogs.
“We practice shooting free throws all the time, but you never know how it is going in a game,” said junior guard Diquan Day-Grant, who scored a game high 25 points, including a 10-for-10 performance at the line in crunch time. “We were shaky for a while, but we got into rhythm and started knocking them down when it counted.”
Day-Grant’s first two free throws started the fateful run and put the Falcons ahead for good, 57-55, at the 2:19 mark. His final two conversions with 4 seconds to go made the outcome academic.
“I think a lot of the trouble we had at the line and elsewhere was due to the jitters,” Flora coach Leon Brunson said. “We’re still a very young team and only have a couple of experienced guys who have been in this kind of situation before. The first-round game is always the toughest for a young team that is still learning how to handle playoff pressure.”
Travelers Rest gave the Falcons fits with its 3-point shooting. The Devildogs finished with eight tallies from beyond the arc, seven of them in the second half. Travelers Rest kept the pressure on the Falcons to keep making free throws with time waning by hitting 3-pointers with 21 and 11 seconds to go. The last bonus tally by Bradley Jones made it 66-63 and a one-possession game until Day-Grant settled the issue.
“All in all, we settled down in the second half,” Brunson said. “Travelers Rest deserves a lot of credit. That’s a team that can put the ball in the basket. The big thing was we accepted the challenge they brought to us, and we didn’t fold.”
Matthew Howard backed Day-Grant, who scored 21 points in the second half, with 17 points. Sophomore forwards James Murray Boyles and Karl Gamble combined for 14 points and 14 rebounds to help offset the strong inside play by Travelers Rest’s Marquez Fisher, a 6-foot-7 junior who scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
A.J. Starks and Jones were the 3-point threats. Starks finished with 16 points, going 4-for-4 from 3-point range in the third quarter, but did not score in the fourth. Jones finished with 15 points.
Last season, the Falcons ended a 15-game postseason losing streak with their first playoff win since 1991. The plan now is to take it to another level.
Flora (17-7) plays at Chapman on Friday with the goal of advancing past the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1988.
TR: A.J. Starks 16, Bradley Jones 15, Brown 4, Lambert 7, Marquez Fisher 17, Sullivan 2, Shipman 2. ACF: Day-Grant 25, Davis 7, Boyles 9, Gamble 5, Gray 5, Matthew Howard 17.