Lower Richland coach Caleb Gaither has a calm demeanor on the sideline and his team followed suit Saturday.
Neither Gaither nor his team panicked when the Diamond Hornets struggled out of the gate against Wren in the Class 4A championship game. Lower Richland trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half, but never got rattled.
Eventually, the shots started falling for the Diamond Hornets and they got the much-needed stops on the defensive end. Lower Richland allowed only six field goals in the second half and outscored the Hurricanes 34-16 in the second half.
It was the second straight game Lower Richland came from behind in the playoffs. The Diamond Hornets trailed Wilson 22-17 at halftime in the Lower State championship game.
“There are not too many teams that can go down by that much and fight back,” Gaither said to his team in the locker room after the game. “… We ended the game outscoring them 45-18. That’s domination.”
Gaither also talked in his postgame message about the importance of bringing the championship back to Lower Richland The Diamond Hornets hadn’t won a state title since 1999, and he hopes they don’t have to wait nearly 20 years to add another one.
The first-year coach challenged his returning players about the importance of not being satisfied with winning one title.
“Younger guys, this is where you start to work, because at LR, this is standard,” Gaither said. “When you talk about the JoJo Englishes and the Stanley Roberts, they expect to be here. And that is the reason I came to LR, because I expect to be playing in the first weekend in March.”
Nelson injury update
Lower Richland guard Ja’Cor Nelson was home from the hospital and in good spirits after dislocating his elbow in the fourth quarter against Wren.
Nelson posted a picture of him on social media with his arm in a sling. He said no surgery was required for his elbow, which was dislocated and chipped. Doctors put the elbow into place early Sunday morning.
Nelson scored 12 points in the championship game and hit a 3-pointer to end the third quarter to get Lower Richland within 35-32.
The senior guard finished the season averaging 15 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists. He is signed to play at Campbell.
Close calls for Midlands teams
While Lower Richland won a state title, the Midlands’ other three title game representatives (Blythewood, Keenan and Newberry) went 0-3 in heartbreaking fashion.
The combined margin of the three losses was just six points, with Bishop England’s win over Newberry and Dorman’s win over Blythewood both coming in the final 40 seconds.
Bishop England’s Katie Callum hit the game-winner with 1.2 seconds left to give the Bishops a 48-47 win over Newberry and their fourth straight title.
In Dorman’s win over Blythewood, Zach Butler scored the game-winner on a back-door layup with 39 seconds left.
Best individual performance
There were plenty of strong performances in the title game, but one that stood the most was Lower Richland’s Clyde Trapp.
The Clemson signee scored all 20 of his points in the second half, including 16 in the fourth quarter to help the Diamond Hornets past Wren. He was 5-of-7 from the field and 10-of-14 from the free-throw line.
Others considered: Green Sea Floyds’ Tamar Jackson (31 points), Keenan’s Tariq Simmons (30 points, 10 rebounds), North Augusta’s Amari Young (19 points, 13 rebounds), Newberry’s Kelsey Felks (15 points, 17 rebounds), Southside’s Tuzion Brock (15 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists), Hemingway’s Darius Williams (16 points, 14 rebounds, 4 steals), Goose Creek’s Shayla Nelson (22 points, 13 rebounds) and Mullins’ Janell Sindab (18 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals)
Best team performance
This also was tough to consider especially with the quality of basketball played over the weekend, but I am going to go with North Augusta’s girls team.
The Yellow Jackets capped an unbeaten season with a 61-37 win over Wilson. North Augusta won 18 of its 28 games by 20 points or more.
NA held Wilson to just 22 percent shooting.
Rankings don’t matter
Of the 10 state championship winners, only three were No. 1 in the final regular season South Carolina Basketball Coaches polls – Southside and Hemingway boys, and North Augusta girls.
Mullins and Bishop England girls, and Dorman boys began the season ranked No. 1.