Lower Richland shut out A.C. Flora in the first quarter, but the Diamond Hornets knew their Region V-4A rivals were not going down easily Friday night.
Christian Brown knew it, too. The 6-foot-7 senior forward and former Flora player opened the scoring with a 3-pointer, and closed out Lower Richland’s effort with a putback that sealed a 46-44 victory against the Falcons at Lower Richland.
“This was the most anticipated game of the season,” said Brown, who was playing in in his second game after sitting out with a concussion for the past month. “It was great playing with my team again. It’s Coach’s (Caleb Gaither’s) birthday, and I had to give him a gift.”
Brown led all scorers with 20 points, but Flora gave him and his team fits after the Falcons were blanked in the first quarter.
“We were so excited. We had a really good start,” Gaither said. “Our condition showed a little bit once they made their run. We’ve had so many guys out with injuries, concussions, sicknesses. That caught up with us, not boxing out and things like that, but we can fix that. We’ve just got to get into the gym.”
Despite the loss, A.C. Flora (15-6, 6-1) clinches the region championship. The Falcons needed to lose by less than seven points to secure the title.
The Diamond Hornets (9-11, 5-2) took a 9-0 lead by the end of the first, while Flora went 0-for-10, suffering especially on offensive rebounds and putback attempts.
The Falcons rallied for 18 points in the second quarter, but Lower Richland still closed the first half with a 23-18 advantage.
Lower Richland’s lead disappeared quickly in the third quarter.
D.J. Sinkler and Zach Faulks opened the second half with 3s to give the Falcons a 24-23 lead at the 5:01 mark of the third. Faulks closed the third quarter with a jumper at the buzzer to give A.C. Flora a 34-29 lead.
The Falcons seemed poised to hold off the Diamond Hornets in the final quarter. A Brown basket and a pair of foul shots from Korey Richardson evened the score at 39 with 3:46 left.
Flora retook the lead briefly, but Brown took the free throw line at the 1:44 mark, made one of two, and paved the way for Tevaughn Higgins.
Higgins made a steal, rumbled down the court as the packed house roared to life, and lifted up the ball to lean inside the rim before a Flora player knocked it to the backboard.
Flora was charged with goaltending on the play, and the basket gave Lower Richland a 44-41 lead. Christian Brown’s putback gave the Diamond Hornets a 5-point advantage before Diamente Brown’s basket and foul shot closed the scoring at the 12-second mark.
For as much effort as the Falcons made at erasing the first-quarter deficit, Falcons coach Josh Staley hung the loss on his team’s slow start.
“The guys fought really hard. I like the maturation we showed by fighting,” Staley said. “We got down nine to a very good team on the road in a high-stakes game. But that was why we lost. We got outplayed early. It wasn’t the referees. Lower Richland outplayed us early, and it came back to bite us late.”
Sinkler led the Falcons with 14 points. Faulks had 12 and Diamente Brown had 10.
ACF: D.J. Sinkler 14, Zach Foulks 12, Diamente Brown 10, Jamison 3, Riley 3, McCray 1. LR: Christian Brown 20, Hughes 8, Richardson 6, Scott 6, Rice 4, Higgins 2.
Lower Richland 45, AC Flora 42
ACF: McKinley Brooks-Sumpter 18, Williams 10, Strange 8, Bookman 4, Eargle 2, Sessions 1. LR: Jordan Canty 12, Laniyah Smith 10, Brooks 8, Adams 7, Washington 6, Nelson 2.