You would think the Carvers Bay football team’s loss in the first round of the playoffs back on Nov. 2 after winning a region championship is a distant memory to the members of a Bears basketball team making a playoff run.
You’d be mistaken.
The bulk of the hoops team played football, and that loss more than three months ago is a driving force for a group of talented senior leaders who are left with only this basketball season to claim a team championship.
The Bears certainly looked driven Tuesday night, routing a Johnsonville team that has been ranked No. 1 in Class A 75-55 in the Bears’ Den in the third round of the state playoffs.
“They’re very related,” said senior forward Shayton Durand, who tallied 15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks Tuesday. “We didn’t even get close to the Lower State or out of the first round [in football] and I told my team and coaches we’ll take the anger out on the basketball court to get what we need.
“I told my team that all of us are going to get a ring before we leave here. We’re trying our best to get there. This is our shot right here.”
The Bears (20-7) will face Whale Branch on Saturday in the Class A state semifinals as part of a day of Lower State basketball championships at the Florence Civic Center.
South Carolina Class A Player of the Year and senior Da’Shaun Aiken scored a game-high 21 points, junior Darius Williams contributed 16 points and seven rebounds, and Walter Linnen had seven points and three steals.
“I feel the kids are getting better and better and better every game,” Bears coach Jeff Mezzatesta said. “That’s the best part. They’re really seeing how good they can be. We’ve still got a long way to go, we’re still making really costly mistakes that we’ve got to eliminate. We’re a little bit too aggressive sometimes, but I don’t want to slow that down, because when they’re playing, they’re playing, and I love that.”
Carvers Bay pushed its typical frenetic pace with full-court pressure and tight, very physical man-to-man defense in the halfcourt, and Johnsonville was affected by it in a raucous gym that was filled to capacity, leaving a line of people waiting outside.
“This ain’t the way basketball is played,” said Johnsonville coach Harris Avant, whose team finished 18-3 and went undefeated in Region VIII-A. “We knew it was going to be like this, and it depended on how the officials called the game. They let them push us and shove us. We knew they were going to do that, and if you allow that to happen I knew this was going to be the outcome.”
The teams split two games earlier this season, and the Bears kept a streak of the home team winning in each of the teams’ past seven meetings. This was the easiest victory among them.
Carvers Bay took full command of the game in the first two minutes of the third quarter. After taking an 11-point lead into halftime, they began the third quarter with an 11-0 run in two minutes to open up a 22-point lead.
Williams began and ended the run with inside baskets, Shayton Durand finished an alleyoop from Aiken with a slam, Shaquan Durand followed with a trey seconds later after stealing the ensuing inbounds pass, and Aiken converted a pass from Linnen on the break following an Aiken steal.
“When we came out in the second half and I saw that I was like, ‘Wow, we’ve winded them, like in boxing with a lot of body shots,’ ” Mezzatesta said.
Despite needing a quick start in the second half, the Flashes began the third quarter on their heels.
They did little to slow Carvers Bay’s early run, committing an inbounds infraction following a Bears basket and standing around as a loose ball hung in the air in the lane, allowing Carvers Bay to regain possession in its offensive end.
“That’s why I called a quick timeout,” Avant said. “I don’t know what we were thinking. We kind of went brain dead I guess right there.”
Johnsonville responded with a mild 8-1 run, but the damage had been done and 15 points was the closest Johnsonville would get in the game’s final 11 minutes.
The Bears had trouble keeping Johnsonville off the glass early. The Flashes got nearly all of their 29 points in the first half either through penetration or offensive rebounds. A short jumper on the Flashes’ first basket and a 3-pointer in the second quarter – both courtesy of Cordea Wilson, were Johnsonville’s only points that didn’t come inside or at the free throw line.
Carvers Bay relied more upon outside shots against a tight zone defense, hitting five of its six 3-pointers in the first half, including four in the first quarter.
Johnsonville’s Cordea Wilson had 11 points at halftime and was nearly unstoppable when he drove to the basket, displaying a host of strong finishing moves. Wilson had a combined 42 points in the teams’ first two meetings this year, but was held to two points in the second half.
Carvers Bay has reached the state semifinals for the second time in the past four seasons. It fell to Hemingway in 2010. Carvers Bay’s second and last state championship in football came in the 2006-07 school year.• JOHNSONVILLE (55) – Tashai Edwards 18, Cordea Wilson 13, Josh Franklin 10, Tately Anderson 6, Arkelious Williams 6, Shaquille Crouch 2
• CARVERS BAY (75) – Da’Shaun Aiken 21, Darius Williams 16, Shayton Durand 15, Walter Linnen 7, Rayshad Dorsey 5, Shaquan Durand 3, Nigel Gamble 3, Chris Carter 3, Stephon Hannah 2
• Records: Johnsonville 18-3, Carvers Bay 20-7.