With a resounding 76-60 victory against Keenan on Saturday, Newberry advanced to the Class 2A boys title game.
Though it is not the finish the Raiders had hoped for, it represents great progress, Keenan coach Zach Norris said.
“I’m proud of our guys. We came a long way with just three returning contributors, and we’ve got a good nucleus coming back who see now what it takes,” he said.
The Raiders led by as much as eight points in the first quarter, but their lead quickly disappeared.
Norris said his team lost focus when Newberry pushed the tempo of the game.
“I think we got off to a real good start,” he said. “But the tempo they play, it’s hard for the kids to stay focused and we lost some of our composure then.”
Newberry started the second quarter up by two, and a surge — fed by two Raiders turnovers — saw the Bulldogs go up 22-14 with a three-minute scoring run to start the second period.
“Our guys just settled down and I told them, ‘guys, we’re better.,’ ” Newberry coach Chad Cary said. “We’re better than Keenan and that’s not taking away from Keenan; they’ve got a great team, but we knew we could play better.”
The Raiders would not pull ahead again.
Charles Smith posted eight of his team-leading 16 points in the first half, while Marcus Stroman and Eric Hopkins were limited to a combined six points.
It was not enough to keep up with the Bulldogs, who sank five buckets from 3-point range and dominated the lane offensively. Keenan trailed 37-23 at the half.
Keenan put together a quick rally at the start of the third, pulling within five points.
“We went back to doing what we do, we got back to running our system. Our system got us right back in it, and then we lost our composure again,” Norris said.
Newberry seized the momentum with its perimeter shooting, as Notorious Booker dropped in two 3-pointers to keep the Bulldogs out front.
“We’ve been doing it all year,” Cary said. “We’ve got inside presence and we’ve got outside shooters. In the past, we’ve only played one half, we’ve let some other people play, so our stats don’t look like it but this is what we are really capable of.”
Newberry’s Kaheem Praylow led the game with 18 points, while Hopkins and Stroman each finished with 14 points for the Raiders.