SANTEE — The road to the state title has its speed bumps with every round being a little more difficult than the previous one.
Somebody may have forgotten to get that memo to Lake Marion on Wednesday night. In front of a packed gymnasium, the Gators put on a show as every Lake Marion player except one contributed points. Five scored in double digits in the 92-75 win over Dillon.
“Basically, we’re just 18 deep,” Lake Marion sophomore guard Deriante Jenkins said about his team. “Everybody knows each other and everybody knows what everybody is capable of.”
Lake Marion (24-1) wasted little time getting off to a fast start as Mike Williams, who scored five of his 10 first half-points in the first eight minutes of play, ignited a 21-4 run that ended at the 3:52 mark. The run plus Dillon’s nine turnovers seemed to be an early knockout combo for the Wildcats (20-8) as the Gators ended the opening period with a 28-9 lead.
“That first quarter was big,” Gators junior guard Chris Turner said. “We set the tone in the first quarter and let them know that we were out here to win.”
Dillon shook off the slow start and put up 19 points in the second quarter, led by Breon Page who knocked down three of the team’s four 3-pointers in the first half. But it was the Wildcats’ inability to sink the outside shot that proved to be detrimental in the first half.
“That wasn’t our strategy to take 3-pointers,” Dillon head coach Harold Wilson said, “but, you know, when you’ve had some success, then you feel like you’re going to knock it down. Young kids now want to shoot the three. So, we had to tell them that we’ve got to take the ball inside. I know they’ve got height and everything, but we’ve got to drive to the basket and draw some fouls.”
With Dillon failing to knock down perimeter shots, Lake Marion took advantage of the Wildcats’ struggles. Williams and Jenkins led the charge for the Gators scoring 13 of the team’s 23 second-quarter points to help the top-ranked home team take a 51-28 lead at the break.
Chris Turner got in on the act for Lake Marion in the third quarter, scoring six of his 12 points, including two dunks that brought the crowd to their feet.
“The crowd is very important for these guys,” Lake Marion head coach Roy Brown said. “We see it in practice all the time. Whenever a crowd comes in the gym, they get pumped up and hype and they get ready to play.”
The Gators would post 22 points in the third while Dillon’s night outside the 3-point line failed to get any better.
“We talked about what we wanted to do at halftime,” Wilson said. “The ball movement that Lake Marion had really caused us a lot of problems because we didn’t have the right man that we were supposed to be guarding. We tried to switch off and they were getting us on the switches. They were also trying to post up whoever our smallest guy was. We would try to give them some help, but then they’d throw it out to another guy who would knock down the 3-point shot. So, they just had us in a chess match.”
Dillon would post 29 points in the fourth quarter, with Page providing 13. But the Gators finished strong behind Ryan Alston. The senior center scored eight of his 12 points in the fourth quarter to keep the pedal to the floor for the Gators.
After winning their final home game of the season, the Gators now turn their attention to Silver Bluff. The Bulldogs earned the right to face the Gators after defeating Wade Hampton 61-50. With the game taking place Saturday at the Florence Civic Center, Brown believes his team won’t have any trouble playing away from the friendly confines of their home gym on a bigger stage.
“There is a little concern,” he said. “I’m not really worried. I think these guys have got it in their heads that they know what’s in store for them. They’re just going to have to go out and get it. We’ll be prepared come Saturday.”
Lake Marion (92)
Deriante Jenkins 14, Ryan Alston 12, Chris Turner 12, Khalil Halls 11, Mike Williams 10, Wright 8, Myers 6, Bryant 4, Sellers 2, Lawton 2, Brunson 2, Asberry 2, Green 2, Oliver 2, T. Williams 2. Saxon 1
Breon Page 24, Jalik Bethea 18, Shaqui Cabbagestalk 10, Knowlin 7, Hayes 6, Caulders 5, Fenton 4, Salmon 1.