In a season that had several defining moments, maybe the end of the third quarter proved that Irmo was going to complete its magical ride into uncharted territory.
Detrek Browning banked in a 3-pointer from about 28 feet and any fight left in Goose Creek was seemingly gone. The Yellow Jackets completed the 65-46 victory against the Gators in the Class 4A boys state championship at Colonial Life Arena to finish with the fifth state championship for coach Tim Whipple and the first undefeated season in school history.
“I can’t put it into words. I’m so excited for these guys,” Whipple said. “What a special group of young men. I said it a couple of times — this game was going to have to define our season, and I guess it did. What a game and what an effort by our guys. I haven’t grasped the concept of being undefeated yet. You have to have a special group and they were. From Day One, they stayed focused. They made coaching very, very easy.”
The effort was spearheaded by an active, aggressive 2-3 zone and the play of seniors Justin McKie and Browning. McKie finished with a game-high 20 points, 10 rebounds and four steals. Browning chipped in with 16 points and seven assists and those two earned their second state championship in three seasons.
“It’s a great feeling,” McKie said. “To do something that has never been done before at Irmo is an incredible feeling. It’s unbelievable.”
Whipple was quick to give credit to Browning on a decision that paid off in a huge way. Irmo (29-0) abandoned its 1-3-1 match-up attack and stayed mostly in a 2-3 zone that seemed to give Goose Creek (21-5) fits.
The zone was so active, it extended the Gators offense 3-5 feet beyond the 3-point line. But they seemed content to keep firing away even though they were off the mark. The Gators took nine consecutive 3-pointers during one stretch of the first half but, outside of Shaquille Patrick connecting on 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, came up empty. The rest of the team was a combined 1-of-19 from the field — 1-of-9 on 2-pointers and 0-of-10 from three.
“I told Coach that when we went to our 1-3-1 match-up zone they had an opening every time they got the extra pass,” Browning said. “Staying in the 2-3 zone would prevent that from happening.”
Whipple liked the idea and ran with it.
“We made adjustments during the game,” Whipple said. “Detrek, being the leader that he is on the floor, came to me said we needed to stay in the 2-3 zone and try to contain those guys and was right on. It was all his decision, not mine.”
Goose Creek had been a hot-shooting team from the perimeter all season but they could never find the range against Irmo. They finished 10-of-32 from beyond the arc. They finished 14-of-50 (28 percent) from the field. The Yellow Jackets held a 38-6 advantage on points in the paint on 25-of-46 (54.3 percent) shooting
Goose Creek leading scorer Dantez Bennamon had a frustrating night. The junior was 3-of-17, including 1-of-10 on 3-pointers, with six turnovers.
“You have to be playing your best basketball this time of year and we didn’t,” Goose Creek first-year coach Blake Hall said. “Irmo is a very good team and if you give them any breaks, they’re going to make you pay for it.
“They slow you down and maybe took some of the attack out my kids in the early going. Their length and athleticism is hard to deal with at times.”
McKie, who is signed to play at South Carolina next year, matched Goose Creek with 14 first-half points, and the Yellow Jackets had a 28-14 advantage. He played under control but was aggressive on the offensive end and that was something Whipple was glad to see.
“Justin played a heck of a game,” Whipple said. “Hopefully, he’ll do some of that here next year.”
Goose Creek scored the opening basket of the second half but Irmo responded with an 11-4 run that all but sealed the deal.
If that didn’t to it, then surely the 3-pointer by Browning at the third quarter buzzer did. That gave Irmo a 44-26 lead going into the final eight minutes.
“This is the best feeling ever,” Browning said. “I’m glad it happened but I’m also glad it’s over. It’s a relief.”