Bengals head to Final Four

BLYTHEWOOD – The 3-point shot wasn’t working for the Blythewood boys against Conway Tuesday night.

Almost everything else was working for the Bengals, who stayed ahead of the Tigers wire-to-wire for a 71-58 victory in front of a raucous home crowd at the Blythewood gym.

“I started outside and it really wasn’t working for me,” said 6-9 senior Robert Braswell. “I knew the inside was best for me, and I felt like every rebound was mine.”

Jonathan Breeland Jr (2) twists past the defense for a layup. | Kristy Massey

Braswell was 1-for-4 from behind the 3-point line, but made the most noise under the net. Besides putting up 14 points, he grabbed 13 rebounds and had four blocks.

Blythewood’s presence under the net paved the way for Tre’ Jackson, who led all scorers on the night with 26. Johnathan Breeland had 15 points.

“We’re always trying to stay together as a team,” Braswell said. “We all push each other, because we know what we want to do.”

The Bengals had barely beaten Conway 63-60 in a holiday tournament game Dec. 30. This time around, they had time to prepare.

“The kids paid attention in the film session, and they were able to pick up some tendencies,” Blythewood head coach Zeke Washington said. “They changed some things in their zone, and they played a little bit more man. We prepped for them this time, but we’ve got to make better decisions in the end.”

Blythewood (24-2) will travel to Florence for the lower state championship, where the Bengals will to play Irmo for the sixth time in two years. The Bengals won all four regular-season games, and beat the Yellow Jackets in the lower state final last year.

The winner of that game will face the upper state champion for the state championship at the Colonial Center March 2. Defending 5A state champion Dorman, which edged the Bengals in the final game last year, plays Wade Hampton matchup Saturday at Greenville’s Bon Secours Arena.

With the best teams in the state remaining, Washington said the team still needs to strive for perfection.

“We have to play more disciplined,” he said. “It has to be about winning for the community. That has to be the most important thing, or you’re not going to advance.”

Conway (21-4) played Blythewood fast and furious, albeit always behind on the scoreboard.

The Bengals eventually built a 12-4 lead on foul shots and close baskets with nearly six minutes gone in the first quarter. They closed out the period 16-8, but could not put any more cushion on its lead until the third quarter.

After a Breeland basket opened the scoring in the second quarter, the Tigers scored seven points on a Tylehk Cooper 3-pointer and a foul shot and a 3-point play from Jimmy Nichols to cut Blythewood’s lead to 18-15.

Braswell’s only 3 of the night came in the middle of 14-10 scoring in the last six minutes of the second quarter. Blythewood took a 32-25 lead into the locker room at the half.

“He knew he had to answer the challenge,” Washington said of Braswell’s play inside. “He’s slim, but fought hard tonight. With Jimmy Nichols playing, he took it kind of personally, he knew he had to answer the challenge of another big time player.”

Nichols, a 6-8 small forward who recently signed with Providence, had just seven points and seven rebounds on the night.

The Bengals opened the second half on a 7-0 run over the first four minutes to take a 39-25 lead. They closed out the third quarter on back-to-back Jackson baskets to take a 51-37 lead.

“He makes the big shots,” Washington said. “He makes my job easier. He makes those big shots and plays solid defense. He made good decisions tonight.”

Another Jackson basket early in the fourth quarter gave Blythewood a 58-39 lead, its biggest advantage of the night. Conway closed the gap to just over 10 points for the rest of the way, but never got any closer. The Bengals hit seven foul shots in the final minute to clinch a trip to Florence and take on its Region V-5A rival.

“They have a real good team,” Washington said. “It’s tough for them to make that 3-hour drive and come and play, so my hat’s off to them.”

Washington said he and the players fed off a rowdy crowd and the hijinks from the Curtain of Distraction.

“We’re so happy we’ve got the Curtain of Distraction,” Washington said. “As long as we got those guys it gives us a plus. Our fans came out, and I think we were the only game in town tonight, so the atmosphere was great. Anytime we can get that, well, we play for them, that’s what I preach.”

Blythewood 71, Conway 58

BHS – 16 – 16 – 19 – 20 – 71

CHS – 8 – 17 – 12 – 21 – 58

BHS – Tre’ Jackson 26, Johnathan Breeland 15, Robert Braswell 14, Thompson 6, Heatley 6, Hambrick 2, Williams 2.

CHS – Andrew Grainger 19, Jaylen Moody 10, Nichols 7, Hemingway 6, Ju. Moody 6, Cooper 3, Grady 3, Graves 2, Steele 2.