A year ago, Newberry coach Chad Cary walked away from the Class 2A boys basketball state championship game with the feeling that his team let one get away.
They fell into an 18-0 deficit against North Charleston but could have won on a shot that missed at the buzzer. It would have been the school’s first state championship since 1981.
With nearly that entire team returning, Cary felt the Bulldogs had put that demon behind them and would have a chance to overcome that loss against Lake Marion.
The result ended up the same — but it came in much different fashion.
Lake Marion and Newberry battled shot-for-shot but it was the Gators who made enough plays at the end to claim their first Class 2A championship with a frantic 91-82 victory Saturday afternoon in front of a nearly sold-out Colonial Life Arena.
“Last year, we could sit there and kick ourselves,” Cary said. “This year, we can’t. We played and they played but they just made the plays down at the end. I can go to sleep and live with that. My kids played hard and this game lived up to its billing. We almost sold the place out and everybody got their money’s worth. We can live with this one.”
The game featured 26 lead changes — 14 in the fourth quarter — and 11 ties. But it was a 3-pointer by Christopher Turner that started a closing 12-4 run for the Gators (25-1).
Turner sank the long-range bomb from the corner that gave the Gators an 82-80 lead with 1:33 remaining. Turner knocked the ball loose on Newberry’s next possession, and Deriante Jenkins recovered the loose ball to set the Gators in motion again.
Khalil Halls finished off a dominating performance with four straight points — two free throws and a basket — that gave the Gators an 86-80 lead with 47 seconds remaining. After Turner’s 3-pointer, Newberry turned it over twice and missed two free throws.
The only points in the final 1:33 by the Bulldogs were two free throws from Trey Miller.
“They got some rebounds on us down in the lower post with their bigger guards,” Cary said. “We just didn’t have an answer. Turner hit a big three, no question about it. Then Halls made a couple plays and it got away from us at the end.”
Halls finished with 33 points and 12 rebounds. Mike Williams added 19 points and nine rebounds, and Jenkins finished with 12 points and 12 assists for Lake Marion.
“Halls was a lot better than I thought he was,” Cary said. “I knew Williams was an animal and he would give us fits, and he did.”
Halls told his teammates at the half that he wanted the ball in the second half after Newberry staked a 41-38 lead.
He didn’t disappoint.
He scored 19 of his points in the second half with 13 coming in the final quarter.
“I told the guys when we were walking out of the locker room at the half to give me the ball, this was my senior year and I wanted the ball in my hands the whole time,” Halls said. “It worked out.”
Kaheem Praylow led Newberry (26-3) with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Jalin Alexander added 19 points with Notorious Booker adding 12 and Miller chipping in 10 points.
Lake Marion, which combined Holly Hill-Roberts and Elloree high schools in 2004, earned that elusive title.
“That No. 1 record is safe now,” Lake Marion coach Roy Brown said. “I’m satisfied. We were riding with this target on our back all year long. The guys stuck with me, we stuck with the guys and we did the job we were supposed to do. What a way to go out for our seniors.”
LM: Khalil Halls 33, Mike Williams 19, Deriante Jenkins 12, Christopher Turner 11, Wright 8, Myers 5, Alston 2, Lawton 1. N: Kaheem Praylow 24, Jalin Alexander 19, Notorious Booker 12, Trey Miller 10. Lindsay 8, Cureton 3, Summers 2, Reeder 2, Wilson 2.