High School Sports

Daniel downs LR to punch 3A boys title game ticket

Lower Richland's Edward Stephens (11) spins for a loose ball in front of Daniel's DeAndre Hopkins (44) during the Class 3A boys Upper State finals at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C., on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010.
Lower Richland's Edward Stephens (11) spins for a loose ball in front of Daniel's DeAndre Hopkins (44) during the Class 3A boys Upper State finals at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C., on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010.

They thought they'd get to Columbia in football, then basketball, then football - and on it went. But it hadn't happened - until Saturday night.

Thanks to their 70-56 victory against Lower Richland in the Upper State championship game at the Bi-Lo Center, the Daniel Lions are headed to the boys basketball state final.

Daniel will play the Darlington-Lake City winner next Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena.

"To have a chance to go to Columbia, that's a dream come true for all of us," Daniel coach Jeff Maness said.

"And these kids deserve it. We thought they'd have already been there by now, either on the football field or on the basketball court, whatever. It's kind of getting that money off your back, and it feels really good."

The Lions (21-3) did it with the help of a dominating defensive performance, which included limiting Lower Richland to one point in the second quarter.

The Diamond Hornets (21-8) scored with 1:03 left in the first quarter to make it 13-13. They didn't score again until there were nine seconds left in the half, which ended with Daniel ahead 30-14.

Daniel, as usual, began in a man-to-man defense. However, the Lions switched to a zone late in the first quarter, and Lower Richland began to struggle.

The reason for the switch?

"You can probably thank Mr. DeAndre Hopkins for that," Maness said.

After the team's extensive film study, Hopkins, the Lions' senior point guard, suggested employing a zone.

"We knew they didn't have too many shooters on their team," Hopkins said, "so we wanted to pack it in and make them shoot it and not let them get the ball down low and do what they like to do."

That, combined with the Lions' ability to beat their opponents off the dribble on the perimeter, doomed the Diamond Hornets.

Sophomore center Shaq Lawson, who scored 25 points, was the main beneficiary. Hopkins, who scored 13 points, and versatile freshman Justin Dotson, who scored 19, were keys to the distribution process.

"We recognized that early," Maness said. "We were able to get in the paint pretty much any time we wanted to and dish. That's what we felt like was the right attack, to really attack the rim and as they come and help, just dish off and let Shaq or whoever finish it off."

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