COLUMBIA – Hanging above Lewisville boys’ basketball coach Larry Davis as he walked onto the Colonial Life Arena court Saturday was a championship banner displaying one of his proudest moments at the University of South Carolina.
The former Denmark-Olar scoring legend was in his second and final season with the Gamecocks after transferring from the University of North Carolina when USC claimed the school’s first-ever Southeastern Conference regular-season title. The 1996-97 team started off .500 after 10 games before finishing 24-8 overall, which included a sweep of the University of Kentucky, winning the conference championship and earning an NCAA tournament berth.
Nearly 16 years later, history repeated itself for Davis as the Lions won the S.C. High School League Class A boys’ basketball title with a 64-54 win over top-ranked Whale Branch. The victory capped a dramatic turnaround for Lewisville (17-11), which started the season 0-6 after playing a competitive schedule against teams in higher classifications such as two-time Class 3-A boys’ champion Hartsville and Class 4-A members Lancaster and South Pointe (coached by former Gamecock teammate Melvin Watkins).
“We were playing a lot of teams that were as far as talent-wise and depth, they were deeper and they were more talented than we were,” Davis said Monday. “But we competed against all those guys and made each game very close. When you talk about playing a schedule like South Pointe a (Class 4-A school), Lancaster a (Class 4-A school) ... Chester (Class 3-A school). We played a lot of 3 and 2-A teams to prepare us for our conference and the playoff run and we really didn’t get blown out of any of those games.
“So we were playing those games and a lot of them were close. Hartsville beat us pretty good. I think they beat us by 19 (66-47 on Nov. 21, 2012) and then I think South Pointe beat us by 22 or 23 (74-48 on Dec. 3, 2012) the first time they played us and then we went to their place and they beat us by 13 (56-43 on Dec. 7). That was a close game until the end. So we made a lot of improvement. We competed every game and the kids kept working and through that whole process, we got better and were able to make that run through the playoffs.”
It was that past experience at South Carolina that Davis harped on in keeping his team encouraged through the early-season struggles.
“When I was at South Carolina, we started out real bad,” he said. “We were (5-5) and lost to Charleston Southern and UNC-Asheville and some other teams that we shouldn’t have lost to. We then went 15-1 in the conference and won the SEC championship. So I knew it could be done. It didn’t bother me. I was just trying to keep the kids convinced and keep them confident that we would be able to make a run. I guess my experiences helped me a whole lot, the good and the bad, and I tried to utilize my experiences to help the kids get through the times we weren’t winning many games. Just letting them see the positives, help them to build on those things.”
Back-to-back losses to defending Class A champion Great Falls and Lamar prior to the season-ending win over McBee to clinch the Region 3-A title provided a wake-up call for the Lions, Davis said. A final lesson came in the state title game against a Warriors’ team that ended the regular season ranked No. 1 by the S.C. Basketball Coaches Association.
After the teams played to a 13-13 tie to end the first quarter, Whale Branch’s defensive pressure helped put Lewisville in a 28-23 halftime hole. At this point, Davis brought up another painful memory to inspire his nervous, shell-shocked team – losing in the 1990 Class A final to St. George.
“I told them I’ve been there as a player and I wasn’t very successful in terms of wins and losses, but it was an awesome experience,” he said. “Do I have some thoughts of that game still here today? Yeah. I think of the opportunity that I had and I let slip away. So, this is a constant reminder. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You may not get here again. I told them 206 teams start off at the beginning of the year in the state of South Carolina trying to win a state championship. When the playoffs start, there’s 132 teams that remain. It dwindles down after every round. For you guys to be sitting here as the final two teams, it’s an accomplishment in itself. But when you’re the last man standing, no one can take that away from you.”
Lewisville turned the tables on Whale Branch in the second half. Using full-court pressure to wear down the Warriors and create transition points, the Lions dominated the third quarter by a 26-9 score to take control of the game. Getting a game-high 17 points from Shakale Worthy and 14 points and six steals from Mandarius Bailey, the Lions roared to their first state title since 1976.
“There are no stars on this team,” Bailey said. “That’s one of the reasons we keep winning and keep the game fun.’’
Despite losing four seniors, Davis remains optimistic about Lewisville’s future.
“We’re excited about where the program is going,” he said. “The coaches have done a good job positioning the kids to get prepared to play competitive basketball. They work hard in the summertime on their skills and getting stronger and we’ve put some things in place to help them develop individually and that’s where actually you win championships. It’s not done during the season. It’s done in the off-season and as long as we can keep kids excited about the opportunity of winning a state title, keep them excited about the opportunity of improving their skill sets to compete year after year, you’ll see this program continue to evolve.”
Ex-H-K-T coaches, S.C. State graduates champions again
Davis was not the only T&D Region alumnus to hoist a championship trophy Saturday.
A decade after getting their respective high school girls’ and boys’ basketball coaching careers started at Hunter-Kinard-Tyler High School, Reggie McLain of W.J. Keenan and Aric Samuel of Hartsville earned a second state title for their current employers.
Led by senior Keira Robinson’s 17 points, the Lady Raiders upended defending Class 2-A champion Bishop England 46-41 to claim their second championship under McLain.
“It’s very satisfying for us to get a win,” said McLain, an S.C. State graduate who left H-K-T prior to its run of back-to-back state titles. “This team worked very hard in the summer, they worked hard in the preseason and now they get the chance to celebrate.”
In the finale of the “Weekend of Champions,” Samuel’s Red Foxes needed overtime to earn the former Bulldog shooting guard a second straight Class 3-A boys’ basketball title at his alma mater and third overall against Eastside. All-State senior guard Jaylen Shaw scored 16 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter to lead Hartsville past Eastside 65-62.
“Jaylen did have a good first half, but he is clutch and a winner and delivered in the second half,” said Samuel, who coached H-K-T to the Class A title in 2005. “We are going to miss him, man. He hung in and made the big plays for us.”
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