McAlister Fieldhouse slowly filled until the 8 o’clock hour as the Lady Indians wrapped up their varsity game against Hammond.
While there were many Indian fans in attendance, there were just as many who came to see the rising star on the Skyhawks’ varsity boys basketball team. Seventh Woods, the fifth-ranked shooting guard in the Class of 2016 according to ESPN.com, was the main attraction and he provided the fans with their money’s worth. The 6-2 sophomore finished the night with 26 points, including 14 in the third, to help Hammond defeat Orangeburg Prep 92-49 for their fifth straight win.
“We had a great atmosphere tonight,” Indians head coach Rip Ripley said. “This is a great atmosphere for high school basketball. We need that every night, not just when Seventh comes to town. The McAlister Maniacs usually bring it and they did a great job tonight. As far as Seventh goes, he’s just a special player. We didn’t do a great job denying him the ball. We didn’t do a great job defensively on him. We made some poor passes up top which led to showtime. Those were things we were trying to eliminate.”
The Indians knew the challenge that was before them and they didn’t back down early on. Thanks to the post play of JJ Union, OPS (0-5) was able to keep the game close, Following a basket by Timmy Schriver at the 1:53 mark, Hammond took a timeout to quell the Indians’ brief swing of momentum. Even with their early showing, the play of Xavier McDaniel and a 9-0 run by Hammond to end the quarter, which was capped by a buzzer-beating jumper by Woods, made it 22-9 heading into the second quarter.
“Xavier is an athlete,” Skyhawks head coach Mark McClam said. “He’s very, very quick for being 6-4. Obviously, he’s got an explosive jump to go with that game. He creates problems off the dribble as well as defensively. He’s a really good lockdown defender. He kind of got us going with Seventh on the break and got some easy lay-ups and a couple of dunks and it spaced us out early with the lead.”
The second quarter picked up right where the first left off for the Skyhawks. The Columbia-based team opened the period on an 8-0 scoring spurt, which was punctuated by an alley-oop finished off by Woods, making it a 30-9 game. Meanwhile, the Indians struggled to match Hammond’s production early on, missing critical scoring chances and ending the quarter with eight turnovers.
“One of the big things we’re working on is being a little bit more mentally tough,” Ripley said. “We need to work on that and we need to be able to forget about a basket and get to the next play and replace it with a good one.”
Those miscues, along with a 10-2 run midway through the second, assisted the Skyhawks in going into halftime with a 48-28 lead.
The third quarter was where Woods gave the fans what they came to see. Opening the quarter with two free throws, the talented shooting guard filled up the scorebook with 14 of his team’s 19 third-quarter points with everything from layups to jumpers and even a thunderous dunk he threw down at the 4:29 mark. His efforts pushed Hammond ahead 65-34 heading into the final quarter.
“I’ve been coaching him since he was 13 in the eighth grade and I watched him play before that in AAU some,” McClam said. “He just kind of goes about his business. I like to say he’s old school, man. He just plays and he doesn’t show a ton of emotion. He doesn’t beat his chest. He’s just a nice even-keel player. What people don’t really realize about him is he’s a great point guard and can handle the ball. He shoots extremely well and his defense is just off the charts with his anticipation and how quick his feet are. So he brings it offensively as well as defensively,”
With Woods sitting on the bench for the fourth, the remaining Skyhawks continued to pour it on. Led by Christopher Marshall and Banks Brown, each with six points in the quarter, the Skyhawks finished off the Indians to move to 5-0 on the young season.
The loss forces the Indians to wait until Friday, when they host Bamberg-Ehrhardt, to try again for their first win. Ripley knows that the start to the season has been frustrating for his players, but he knows they’re not willing to stop fighting for a win.
“We’re going to get there,” Ripley said. “We’ve just got to keep pushing. We can’t take the time to sit back and feel sorry for yourself or boo-hoo me or this, that or the other. We’ve got to get after it.”
Prior to the boys game, the Lady Indians defeated Hammond 51-38. Despite a sluggish first half where they trailed 20-19 at the break, OPS was able to come alive behind a 13-0 run to start the third with to go up 34-24. From there, Cassidy Hills helped Orangeburg Prep put the game away, scoring nine of her 11 points in the final quarter.
“Cassidy, last night, played well,” Lady Indians head coach Jan Stoudenmire said. “Tonight, she wasn’t shooting the ball very well. She was struggling, but she never struggled on defense. She kept fighting. She kept hustling. She had to handle the ball. She had to break the press. Cassidy started off like Cassidy needs to play for the rest of the year. She’s worked hard in the offseason. You could see it in the second half.”
Ali Stephens led all Lady Indians with 12 points and 15 rebounds while Victoria Williams added nine points.