ST. MATTHEWS — Corey Zeigler reached out and grabbed Jalen Jackson with 15 seconds left.
The look of reluctance on the Calhoun County senior’s face told the story for he and the rest of his teammates Saturday night. Against a region foe they were facing for the third time, Silver Bluff came away with a 62-55 win behind key performances by senior guard Donte Wright and junior guard Jaylen Lawrence.
“Coming in, we knew we had to take care of the pressure,” Wright said. “We couldn’t turn the ball over like we did last game. Last game, we turned the ball over probably 15 times. You can’t win playing like that, but the main thing we wanted to do was take care of the pressure.”
The Bulldogs (13-10) set the tone early as Wright heated up. Silver Bluff opened the game on a 10-2 run to make it 12-5 with 3:33 to go in the opening quarter. Calhoun County (17-8) rebounded from the early setback with an 11-0 run of their own that would turn out to be critical in allowing them to finish 16-15 in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs took advantage of the extra opportunities they earned in the second quarter. By crashing the offensive glass and drawing fouls, the Bulldogs ended the quarter scoring nine of their 14 second-quarter points.
“They shoot free throws well,” Saints head coach Zam Fredrick said. “I thought the whistle blew a little bit too many times tonight, but what you can you say about that? We knew they were a good free throw shooting team and we found ourselves out of position on some of those plays. But I thought the whistle blew a little bit too much and I knew free throws would be a problem for us if we continued to have that kind of problem.”
Still, the Saints continued to attack the basket. With Dekembre Brown’s six points in the quarter, Calhoun ended the half with a 33-29 lead.
The Bulldogs tightened up on defense in the third quarter, forcing the Saints to commit eight turnovers. The turnovers ultimately hampered Calhoun’s productivity on offense as they ended the period with just seven points as Silver Bluff took a 42-40 lead into the fourth quarter.
“A couple of their key guards were in some foul trouble,” Silver Bluff head coach Robbie McKenzie pointed out, “and Coach Fredrick was really kind of trying to spread his fouls around with those guys. We made it a point, when we saw (Charley) go off the floor and we saw (Raquan Fredrick) go off the floor, we were going to really pressure them.”
With time against them, the Saints pressured the basketball in hopes of forcing a few Silver Bluff miscues. Instead, the Bulldogs put together a 10-1 run behind Lawrence, who scored 13 of his game-high 24 points in the fourth. Combined, Lawrence and Wright combined for 47 of the Bulldogs’ 62 points.
“When you’ve got guards that can score the basketball,” McKenzie said, “like we said like they were down in the fourth quarter, they’re going to turn up the heat. They’re going to try to press you. They’re going to try to play overly aggressive. When you’ve got a kid that likes the ball in their hands late, let me get out of their way and let them play.”
The win for Silver Bluff sets up another Region 5-AA rematch between the Bulldogs and Wade Hampton. However, the Bulldogs are going to enjoy their win against a perennial playoff contender.
“It feels great,” Wright said. “It’s the best feeling I’ve had in my life. In my freshmen year, we got put out by Burke and in the next two years by Mullins. They were number two in the state. This is great to get past the second round.”
SB (62) — Jaylen Williams 24, Donte Wright 23, Douse 5, Cummings 4, Yeldell 3, Hickson 2, Jackson 1.
CC (55) — Jarrett Williams 20, Dekembre Brown 10, Zeigler 7, Fredrick 6, Charley 5, Riley 3, Smith 2, Johnson 2.