Bengals lose in heartbreaker

FLORENCE – The Blythewood boys overcame a 9-0 deficit to eventually hold a 40-30 lead late in the third quarter.

When Jonathan Breeland made an inside finger-roll into the net with 32 seconds to go, the Bengals appeared ready to close out their second straight 5A lower state championship with a 48-47 lead.

The two exhausted teams battled for possession in the final seconds, with Irmo ready to inbound the ball after a time out with 3 seconds on the clock.

Charles Jackson (3) fires from behind the perimeter under Irmo pressure. | GoFlashWin

Once the Irmo timeout lapsed, Raekwon Heath slapped his hand on the ball and made a quick pass to Hasuan Rivers. Rivers quickly laid the ball up to the backboard, and the entire Irmo crowd watched the ball bounce on the rim once, twice.

The ball fell into the net as the buzzer went off, ensuring the Yellow Jackets a 49-48 victory over the Bengals at the Florence Civic Center.

“It was the little things,” Blythewood head coach Zeke Washington said. “I’ve got to do a better job of coaching the little things you have to do. You gotta block out better, you gotta hit free throws, we gotta move the ball a little bit better. We just didn’t do that. My hat’s off to Irmo, they played real well. They were real physical with us.”

The Bengals, who had beaten Irmo five times in the last two seasons, finish the season 24-3. Tre’ Jackson and Robert Braswell each had 14 points. Breeland had 11. Caymen Williams was the only other Blythewood scorer, with nine points.

Winston Hill led the way with 12 points for the Yellow Jackets (22-7) Rivers had 11 points, including three 3-pointers. Rivers’ last basket was what kept the Yellow Jackets alive to face Dorman for the 5A state championship Saturday at the Colonial Center.

“It’s a set play and we’ve got several options, and that’s the first option,” Irmo head coach Tim Whipple said. “Luckily they just played straight-up man and it was open. You have to pass it, you have to catch it, and you have to finish. That was an excruciating bounce or two before that went in.”

Robert Braswell (20) uses his length to stifle the Irmo shot. Braswell put up 14 points in the one-point loss against Imro in the semifinals. | GoFlashWin

Irmo jumped out to a 9-0 start on 3-pointers from Trevez Caldwell and Rivers, a Winston Hill Basket and a Heath foul shot.

Blythewood’s first basket of the game came at the 4:11 mark of the first quarter, a Jackson layup. Jackson followed up with a 3 and Williams had a basket and a pair of foul shots to even the score at 9 with 2:24 left in the first.

From that point, Blythewood and Irmo battled shot for shot in an intense first half of play.

After an Irmo foul shot, Jackson made a basket and Braswell a jumper to give the Bengals a 13-10 lead. Blythewood closed out the quarter leading 13-12.

The Bengals found their stride in the second quarter. Braswell, who missed his first 3-point attempt in the first quarter, drained four 3s in the second quarter as the Bengals built a 35-28 lead by the half.

Blythewood may have worked too hard for that advantage, however.

Jackson drained a 3 that gave the Bengals a 40-30 advantage at the 4:30 mark of the third quarter, but Blythewood looked tired.

Irmo spent the rest of the third reeling in their Region V-5A rival. Javonte Young’s basket with 1:12 to go in the quarter got the Yellow Jackets to within 43-39, but they too were tired after relentless physical play for almost 18 minutes to score any more in the third.

Blythewood looked to protect its slim lead in the fourth and secure a chance to match up with Dorman for the 5A championship next week at the Colonial Center. The Cavaliers, who beat the Bengals for the title last year, won 44-36 over Wade Hampton Saturday in the upper state championship game at the Bon Secours Center in Greenville.

At the start of the fourth, Irmo was looking to outlast Blythewood and look to score one more point at the end.

A Rivers 3-pointer did just that. After an Irmo timeout at the 1:47 mark, Rivers found an open look well behind the 3-point arc and fired it off to give the Yellow Jackets a 47-46 lead with 1:20 to go. It was Irmo’s first advantage since the first quarter.

Breeland’s shot with 32 seconds left not only gave Blythewood a 48-47 lead, it was also the first Bengals basket in the fourth quarter. Blythewood had just three foul shots for the entire fourth.

Irmo’s defense in the second half set up the final game-winning play.

“Our guys are just resilient,” Whipple said. “To me, it wasn’t about this game, it was about the journey for us to get to this game. I’m so proud of our kids. At one time we were 2-5 in the region, at one time we were 11-7. Now we’re 21-7 and playing in the state championship game. I have to say that’s a pretty incredible, resilient group of young men.”

Breeland’s shot proved to be the Bengals’ last basket of the 2017-18 season.

“I like physical basketball, it’s what I try to get our kids to do,” Washington said. “It didn’t happen with us tonight. They (Irmo) did those little things, they rebounded, free throws, those are the things that they did and we just didn’t do. As a coach, you gotta get your guys to do it, and I just got to do a better job with that.”

Irmo  – 12 – 16 – 11 – 10 – 49

BHS  – 13 – 22 – 8 – 5 – 48

Irmo – Winston Hill 12, Hasuan Rivers 11, Caldwell 6, Young 6, Heath 6, Rivers 4, Williams 4.

BHS – Tre’ Jackson 14, Robert Braswell 14, Johnathan Breeland 11, Williams 9.

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