To win a state championship, a team better have a load of talent.
A little bit of luck doesn’t hurt either.
The North Myrtle Beach girls basketball team has both on its side this year – as evidenced by the team getting all three of its preliminary playoff games at home. The third is at 7 p.m. Monday, when the Chiefs will face Crestwood. It’s a match-up of two No. 1 seeds. Each team has a winning streak of at least 15 games. Both won all 10 of their respective region games, and both schools are ranked in the top six of the most-recent Class AAA state rankings.
But thanks to the bracket shuffle the South Carolina High School League employs to determine home games between like-seeded teams, this game will be played at North Myrtle Beach.
It’s the same reason boys teams Myrtle Beach and Carvers Bay also have home games against teams with the same playoff seed.
“This is the best feeling that I’ve ever had,” North Myrtle Beach senior India Farmer said. “We don’t have to go anywhere – we’re right here at home. We’ve got everyone coming to support us.”
All that’s on the line Monday night is a trip to Saturday’s Lower State finals in Florence. That game will be a neutral site, both in theory and reality – none of the four teams in the Class AAA girls bracket vying for those two spots are from the Florence area.
North Myrtle Beach’s chances of getting there, however, improve based solely on having the home game. Since the SCHSL moved to the current format in 2002-2003, home teams have won a vast majority of their games.
So far this season through two rounds, Class AAA playoff girls home teams are 18-6. Last year, home teams were a combined 21-7 in the Class AAA playoffs during the first three rounds before neutral-site contests for the Lower State finals and state finals.
Road teams win only about one-quarter of their games in the Class AAA playoffs, and those who earn home-court advantage have great success.
“From the outset of the season, we made that our goal,” North Myrtle Beach coach Jude Hunt said. “We wanted to get home-court advantage. We knew if we won the region, we’d have a chance to have three home games.
“It rotates, so it’s pretty fair. Obviously, if it was for our region every year, I think it would be pretty nice. Somebody’s got to have an advantage somewhere. We’re just fortunate this year it worked out for our region.”
Longtime Chiefs faithful have seen this play out before, both home and away. In 2004-2005, the last time the Chiefs won a region title and earned a No. 1 playoff seed, they played Crestwood at home in the third round. North Myrtle Beach won that game and moved on the Lower State finals.
The previous season, a strong regular season also led to a top seed. That season, however, the bracket gave home-game rights to Timberland. North Myrtle lost that game by 13 points.
Some of the home-court advantage can be broken down to simple routine. If Farmer, fellow All-State selection Taylor Allman or any other Chief wants to put up 100 jump shots prior to the game, they can do that – something that isn’t possible when you’re on a bus.
Maybe most importantly, however, is that playing at home can cover up mistakes.
Take last Thursday, for instance. The Chiefs held a double-digit lead over Hilton Head throughout the game, and the Seahawks were allowing North Myrtle Beach to burn plenty of time off the clock in the fourth quarter by playing off the ball.
Instead, the Chiefs continued to press offensively, a product of exactly what has brought them success throughout the season.
“We were playing into their hands,” Hunt said. “Sometimes, we have to learn to press the brakes a little bit and burn some clock. But we have a couple players who have a hard time doing that. It is [habit for them]. We don’t practice slow tempo that much. Our practices are high-tempo, running up and down the floor. Our offense is designed to do things like that. It’s really difficult to hold them back sometimes.”
North Myrtle Beach still won the game by 12 points, so the lack of clock awareness never developed into a real problem.
Fans got to see another victory. And they got to see it at home.