Irmo’s magical season was teetering on the brink in the third round of the Class 4A boys basketball playoffs Tuesday night against South Pointe.
The unbeaten Yellow Jackets were facing a fourth-quarter deficit for the first time in a long time and had four starters with three or more fouls. But thanks to the efforts of Alex Quillen, Jevante Gross and Javis Howard, Irmo had enough to hold on for a 62-59 victory against the Stallions to advance to the Upper State title game.
Irmo (27-0), the top ranked team in the state and ranked 21st nationally by USA Today, will face the winner of tonight’s Spring Valley-Hillcrest contest Friday night at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville.
“All I can say is we were resilient,” Irmo coach Tim Whipple said. “We didn’t play our best game — and, trust me, South Pointe had a lot to do with that — but we hung around and found a way. That’s what great teams do. When it’s all said and done, I hope we can call ourselves a great team. We’re not there yet.”
The unlikely trio of heroes for the Yellow Jackets scored all the points in the fourth quarter. After leading nearly the entire way, Irmo found itself on the short end of a 49-47 game entering the final eight minutes.
Howard, who finished with 14 points and seven rebounds, got things started with a layup to tie it at 49. After a basket by Justin Hart gave South Pointe the lead at 51-49, Quillen began a personal stretch during which the senior guard scored nine consecutive points.
He scored on a layup and hit two jumpers but South Pointe held a 56-55 lead after a 3-pointer from Tay Blake with 2:10 remaining. Quillen got free on the right wing 20 seconds later after a double-screen and gave Irmo the lead for good with a 3-pointer that found nothing but net.
“I had made too many mistakes early in the game,” Quillen said. “On that final shot, Detrek (Browning) said he was coming to my side and I came off the pick and was able to hit the shot. It was a great feeling.”
Whipple felt that was the shot of the game.
“Alex comes up with a huge basket there at the end,” Whipple said. “If he misses that shot, it changes the entire complexion of the game.”
South Pointe coach Melvin Watson, who starred at South Carolina in the 1990s, felt his team did a decent job on Irmo’s leading scorers, Justin McKie and Detrek Browning, who scored 11 and 16, respectively. He also believed the shot by Quillen was the biggest dagger.
“They run their plays extremely well and they found 23 (Quillen) coming off the screen,” Watson said. “We knew coming in he could shoot the basketball. That’s a sign of a great team when they can get a shot like that in a crucial situation.”
The Stallions turned it over on their next possession before McKie drove the lane and hit a twisting layup with 25 seconds remaining for a four-point lead, 60-56.
Chris Frazier hit a deep 3-pointer with 13 seconds left to give South Pointe a chance before Gross capped his big night with another key play. McKie was fouled but missed the front end of the one-and-one before Gross came down with the rebound and made two foul shots with six seconds remaining.
Blake had a chance to force overtime but his double-clutch 3-point attempt from the corner clanged off the side of the rim as time expired.
“I had to find a way to get to the ball,” Gross said. “It was a team effort and, when one of us is struggling, the others are there to pick them up. That’s what we did tonight, and had the refuse to lose attitude.”
South Pointe (21-2) used a dominant third quarter by Tyreece Brice to wipe away a nine-point halftime deficit. Brice, a junior point guard, scored 12 of his 18 points in the third quarter and Blake’s layup with a minute remaining gave the Stallions their first lead since early in the first quarter.
Whipple felt like the mounting foul trouble took away the Yellow Jackets’ attacking style in the third quarter.
“It hurt us to have three starters with three fouls at the half,” Whipple said. “It took away our aggressiveness and, frankly, led to way too many easy baskets. We played tentative.”
After scoring 24 points in the third, Watson elected to slow the game down despite the fact Irmo was saddled with the foul trouble. That gave each team eight possessions in the final quarter and the Yellow Jackets scored on seven.
Gross finished with six points but added 10 rebounds and four steals. Quillen scored all nine of his points in the fourth quarter and Howard had a solid effort in the post. Those three stole the spotlight with the season on the line.
“I can’t say enough about any of our guys,” Whipple said. “Everybody contributed and made plays when we really needed one. One play really wasn’t any bigger than the other.”