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Games of the year: Hoops playoff classic highlights school season’s best

  • JCST file photo RHHS’s boys basketball season ended in the Class AAA Lower State semifinals when hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to eliminate the Jaguars, 67-65.
  • Carmen Pinckey/Special to Jasper County Sun Times CJ Cleland’s winning field goal gave THA a dramatic 23-22 win.
  • Janine Wilson/Special to Jasper County Sun Times Frederick Toomer led RHHS’s girls to the SCHSL Class AAA Lower State final. The Jaguars reached the contest after beating Manning 56-51 in the Lower State semifinal.

As the school year comes to a close, the Jasper County Sun Times selects the best games of 2016-17.

1. Brookland-Cayce 67, Ridgeland-Hardeeville 65 (Class AAA Lower State boys basketball semifinal)

In the moment, RHHS longtime boys basketball coach Jeremiah Faber didn’t realize he was coaching in one of the great games of the season, or his career, but after Brookland-Cayce’s Lloyd Hemming sank a buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer to end the Jaguars’ season — 67-65 — everyone in Estill’s gym knew the game would be remembered long after that night of Feb. 21.

The Jaguars were playing the Lower State semifinal for the third straight year in Estill’s gym, because the RHHS Jaguar den doesn’t hold 1,500 people. In 2015 the Jaguars topped Battery Creek 54-53, sending them to the Lower State final. In 2016, they fell to Timberland 61-54.

Despite having Region 8-AAA Player of the Year Trei’Von Anderson, the Jaguars lost this season in heartbreaking fashion.

“I didn’t realize it at the time, my focus was on how we could win it, especially when we went down six and I called my last timeout,” said Faber, four months after the once-in-a-coaching career game. “I didn’t realize how valuable — how significant — the game would have been, but it was an intense game.”

After falling behind in the first quarter (16-12), RHHS reclaimed the lead and rode into halftime with a seemingly large one point advantage (24-23) over B-C. It was a battle of defense, and a game of runs – as the best games are.

The teams traded leads throughout the second half, but B-C took a six point lead (60-54) into the final two minutes of the fourth quarter.

Senior shooting guard and all-state performer Anderson willed the Jaguars back into contention with a 3-pointer that cut the deficit to one (62-61) with just under a minute in regulation. With 17 seconds remaining, B-C had a 64-63 lead and the ball, but the Jaguars forced a turnover. B-C’s coach called a timeout and Faber took the time to draw up one last play, one last shot.

Anderson got the ball on the baseline, drove to the basket and his first layup was blocked. With less than 10 seconds remaining, Anderson grabbed the rebound and hit a contested go-ahead reverse layup.

65-64 Jaguars. 4.3 seconds in regulation. The Jaguars seemingly had a ticket to Florence and the Lower State final with their names on it. In the blink of an eye, B-C’s Hemming pushed the ball cross court and hit a contested, game-winning, buzzer-beating off-balance 3-pointer — stealing the victory from the the Jaguars’ hands.

Four months later, Faber still feels the pain of that loss — one that he called the second, most bitter loss he’s suffered as a head coach.

“You know, you never get over a bad loss, just like you never stop enjoying good wins, but you learn to deal with it,” said Faber, who has 516 wins in 32 seasons. “A bad loss at the end of the season, you have to deal with it until the next time you get in the gym — not even summer scrimmages, summer practices, heal that wound, not until that next season first game. It still burns, it still hurts every time I think about it. I haven’t gotten used to it. You just don’t forget.”

The Lower State semifinal was one of the games you get to witness maybe two or three times as a basketball fan. It was a grueling battle of grit and defense, a coaches duel, that kept fans on the edge of their seats until the final buzzer.

“We were not disciplined enough,” said Faber in summary of what cost the Jaguars the game. “The one that that came back to bite us in the butt and we cried about it all year, was the leadership. If we had the leadership we needed, someone would have stopped the ball — or told someone to stop the ball. If we would have stopped ball, or forced Hemming to make a play or the extra pass, certainly we would have won the ball game.”

One can’t help but wonder if the top-seeded Jaguars would have had one more strong defensive stop in their tank if they were playing on their home court in Ridgeland and not in Estill. Anderson and Hemming hit elite-level shots, proving why they were both their respective region players of the year and all-state players.

In basketball, the winning shot is the one remembered and replayed. It’s that winning shot, the one the Jaguars found themselves on the wrong side of, that Faber said is already fueling his team in the off-season. Redemption is brewing.

2. Ridgeland-Hardeeville 56, Manning 51 (Class AAA Lower State girls basketball semifinal)

Frederick Toomer’s Lady Jaguars had the most impressive season of the year, winning 21 games and reaching the Class AAA Lower State final.

The Jaguars won their third straight region title and junior guard Que Drayton was named Region 8-AAA Player of the Year and earned all-state honors. The most impressive showing, unquestionably, was their 56-51 Lower State semifinal win over Manning Feb. 20.

In a win-or-go-home scenario, RHHS lived up to the challenge.

After falling behind 14-5 early and trailing most of the first half, the Jaguars took a 42-35 lead to end the third quarter that they extended to 12 with under two minutes left in the fourth. The Jaguars ultimately won 56-51 and booked their ticket to the Lower State final — their first appearance in the Lower State final since 2011.

The game saw a balanced offensive performance with three players putting up double digits and one put up a double- double.

Drayton scored 18 points, Timothea Green had 11 points, and Marlaysia Westbrook had 11 points. Considering the balanced offense, come-from-behind win, and the Lower State final on the line, it was easily the best Lady Jaguars win.

3. Thomas Heyward 23, Calhoun Academy 22 (SCISA football Week 4)

The Rebels’ season did not live up to its hopes because it ended with a first-round SCISA Class A playoff loss, but the season hit a high note when sophomore kicker CJ Cleland kicked a 29-yard, game-winning field goal to beat Calhoun Academy 23-22 on Sept. 16.

After jumping out to a 20-8 lead at halftime, THA gave up the lead and 14 unanswered points to Calhoun. Calhoun carried a 22-20 lead into the final minute of the fourth quarter.

THA drove to the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter with under two minutes left, but fumbled.

THA’s defense held Calhoun, forced a punt, and gave THA one more shot.

On third-and-10, with 5.9 seconds remaining, and the game on the line, Cleland punched the ball straight through the uprights to steal the win.

“I never thought it would come down to that,” Cleland said. “I was a little nervous, but I knew we would come through.”

Honorable Mention

Ridgeland-Hardeeville 35, THA 6 (Week 1 football, Aug. 19): For the first time since Thomas Heyward was founded in 1970, the public school and private school played against each other in an official football game.

The Jaguars won, but the game symbolized unity among the community at large.

John Paul II 64, THA 50 (Boys basketball, Feb.11): With a potential playoff berth on the line for the Golden Warriors and NCAA coaching legend Bobby Cremins in the stands, John Paul rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit as it outscored the Rebels 31-12 in the third quarter.

The game added some fuel to an already brewing SCISA rivalry.

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