Lower Richland needed a big play in the closing seconds of Friday’s game against A.C. Flora, and Ja’Cor Nelson delivered.
The senior guard stole the ball from James Reese and went the length of the court for a layup with five seconds left to give No. 3 Lower Richland a 45-44 win over No. 9 A.C. Flora in front of a big crowd at the Diamond Mine.
“Coach (Caleb Gaither) told us if someone else got the ball but (Reese), to foul. But if he got the ball, to reach in and rip it out,” said Nelson, who signed to play at Campbell. “I went in and did that and then when I got the ball, I was like go with it, finish the shot and make the layup.”
Gaither, in his first year with LR, was proud of Nelson making the play and keeping his composure in the final minutes because the Diamond Hornets turned the ball over on two consecutive possessions before Nelson’s steal.
“For him to make that type of play, it tells you how he has grown over his time here at LR,” Gaither said. “You think of a high school kid in that situation, he could have easily lost track of time or pulled up at the free throw line, but he had his mind made up. And I wasn’t going to call a timeout. I was going to let him go.”
A.C. Flora had a chance to answer, but was called for traveling with 0.8 seconds left. After the call, a Lower Richland player came off the bench onto the court to celebrate, thinking the game was over. A.C. Flora coach Joshua Staley pleaded with the officials for a technical foul for the player leaving the bench, but officials said Lower Richland called a timeout before that.
“The tape is going to show they ran on the floor, didn’t call a timeout and should have got the tech,” Staley said. “But with that being said, if we make our free throws, none of that matters … and it isn’t as dramatic of a finish. So, we aren’t going to say them running on the floor caused us to lose the game. They made a play at the end, and Ja’Cor made a great effort and got the steal.”
A.C. Flora was 1-of-4 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter including missing front end of two one-and-ones.
It was LR’s first win over Flora since 2013, and three of the past five games have been decided by three points or less. With the win, the Diamond Hornets (10-3, 3-0) take over first place in Region 5-4A.
“This is a statement right here, that LR is back and better than ever and we have a chance to win the state championship this year,” Nelson said.
Nelson and Clemson signee Clyde Trapp each had 13 points to lead Lower Richland, which trailed by as many as eight points in the third quarter. The seniors had 10 of LR’s final 12 points of the game, and combined for three of the team’s six 3-pointers.
Nelson’s 3-pointer with 6:33 left tied it at 38, but the Falcons scored four consecutive points to pull ahead and took a 44-40 lead on Reese’s rebound with two minutes left.
Christian Brown led A.C. Flora (9-8, 1-1) with 21 points, and Reese added 15.
Both teams will play in the Crescent Construction MLK Bash on Friday at Eau Claire. Lower Richland faces Cardinal Newman at 12:30 p.m. while A.C. Flora takes on Gray Collegiate at 5 p.m.
ACF: James Reese 13, Hollingsworth 8, Christian Brown 21, D. Thomas 2. LR: Clyde Trapp 13, Ja’Cor Nelson 13, Townsend 5, Tisdale 6, Higgins 8.
Lower Richland 46,
A.C. Flora 33
Cailiah Hicklin scored 23 points, and the Diamond Hornets (9-6, 3-0) used a 14-0 run over the third fourth quarter to pull away from the Falcons.
Jordan Strange led A.C. Flora (10-7, 1-1) with 16 points.
ACF: Williams 2, Davis 2, Sumpter 8, Wongwon 3, Jordan Strange 16. LR: Cailah Hicklin 23, Archie 11, Adams 8, Jackson 2, Washington 3, Smith 3.