Lower Richland boys basketball coach Caleb Gaither liked what he saw from the defending Class 4A state champions Friday night in an early-season road test against Keenan, the preseason No. 1 team in Class 2A and last year’s state runner-up.
Christian Brown scored 17 points in his second game with the Diamonds, and mainstay Tevaughn Higgins was huge down the stretch to propel Lower Richland to a 44-35 victory against the Raiders.
“The fact that we pulled out a win on the road in an atmosphere like this against a good team like Keenan was a real big early-season test for us,” Gaither said. “It was a playoff atmosphere with the heat and the crowd into it, and we were able to grind it out, so it was a big win.”
Brown, who is ranked as one of the top 20 players nationally by most publications, did his damage in the second and third quarters to help Lower Richland (2-0) pull away.
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The 6-foot-6 junior got in early foul trouble but was still effective. He went scoreless in the first quarter but scored eight points in the second to help the Diamonds erase an 11-8 deficit. Lower Richland forced Keenan (1-1) into a 1-for-7 performance from the field with eight turnovers in the second quarter to build a 25-16 halftime lead.
Brown continued his stellar play in the third quarter. He added nine points, and his 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Diamonds a 36-27 lead. Brown finished with 17 points, four rebounds and three blocks.
“He’s been a leader, talking and communicating with everyone,” Gaither said. “He’s getting more comfortable with them. He’s tightened up his ball handling, so he’s doing a little bit of everything for us.”
Dillon Jones and Keenan had one final run in them. Jones kept the Raiders close by scoring 20 points with nine rebounds and helped pull them within three, 38-35, after a steal and dunk by Latrell Taylor with 2:26 left.
That’s when Higgins stepped forward. The only returning starter for the Diamonds scored the final six points to seal the hard-fought win. Higgins finished with 16 points and four rebounds.
“Tevaughn is a mismatch nightmare because he’s so strong,” Gaither said. “He can post up big guys and throw his body around, but at the same time he’s a little quicker and agile than people give him credit for.”
Keenan coach Zach Norris liked the fact his team fought back but said it’s been a tough early portion of the season for the Raiders.
“I like the fact they didn’t give up. But we have too much inconsistency going on,” he said. “They think they can just turn it on when they want. Until we grow up and mature, it’s going to be a long season even if we are ranked No. 1 right now.”
Lower Richland 44, Keenan 35
LR – Christian Brown 17, Tevaughn Higgins 16, Richardson 5, Rice 4, Flood 2. K – Dillon Jones 20, Taylor 5, Stone 5, Garrett 3, Horton 2.
Lower Richland 30, Keenan 18
LR – Nelson 8, Kelley 6, Adams 5, Smith 4, Washington 3, Brooks 2, Canty 1, McCoy 1. K – Hickman 9, McDaniel 4, Hagler 3, Jones 2.