The Willie Thomas era coaching the Orangeburg-Wilkinson boys basketball team continued to move in the right direction in his first season with the Bruins, with a playoff win at home on Wednesday.
O-W held off the Darlington Falcons, 58-52, to advance in Class 4A Lower State bracket play.
The Bruins started the game slow on defense, but picked up the slack in the second half, which allowed them to hold off a team that had been tied for first-place in its region in recent weeks. Darlington finished the season with a 16-9 record.
The Bruins were led in scoring by Yohannes Utsey who poured in a game-high 22 points, most of them coming in the paint. Frank Lee, Christian Joseph, Jahnarious Snell, and Joshua Price each scored six points in the winning effort.
The Falcons were led in scoring by Tre’Quan Scott who had 17 points, and Jalian Smith and Kenyon Scott added 11 points for the Falcons.
Coach Thomas, who coached teams to state championships at Bowman and Holly Hill-Roberts in years past, said this win was normal to him but it is important for his team.
“For these kids I think it is important to understand this kind of atmosphere; it just gives them a higher feeling than winning a regular season game,” he said. “Hopefully this will propel us to understand what it’s going to take to move to another level.
“Tonight was good for us, and hopefully in the next round we will be better.
Despite the win, Thomas noticed some things that need to be corrected in order for his team to play at an even higher level.
“We have to do a better job offensively. We got whipped in the first half in transition,” Thomas said. “We have to do a better job of rebounding the basketball.”
The Bruins fell behind early to the Falcons, but a steal and dunk by Utsey seemed to wake the Bruins up on offense. The senior post player was the anchor of the offense, as he was able to score several tough buckets in the low post. The Bruins started hitting 3-pointers later in the first half, including one at the buzzer by Lee, to give them a 37-27 lead heading into halftime.
Both the Bruins and Falcons struggled on offense in the third quarter, as each team turned the ball over multiple times. Both teams scored eight points in the period, with O-W still holding a 10-point lead, 45-35, heading into the fourth quarter.
The final period was a low-scoring quarter for the first four minutes. The Bruins held the ball on offense, letting the clock run down before attempting a shot. The Bruins were able to hold the Falcons scoreless for the first four minutes of the quarter.
The Falcons finally scored on a 3-pointer from Scott with 3:22 left in the game. Darlington then got another trey from Scott, cutting the lead to seven with just under three minutes to play. But the Bruins were able to put together a few stops defensively and preserve their lead.
The Falcons were forced to foul, putting the Bruins in the double-bonus. The Bruins made enough free throws to keep their lead and secure the win.
The Bruins (20-4 record) will play at No. 1 seed Wilson (17-3 record) in Florence in the second round on Saturday at 7 p.m.
This was the final game in the final season for Falcons coach Ken Howle, who is retiring this summer.
ORANGEBURG-WILKINSON (58) - Yohannes Utsey 22, Frank Lee 6, Christian Joseph 6, Joshua Price 6, Jahnarious Snell 6, Everette Hopkins 4, LaKeith Islar 3, Devin Green 2, Jordan Snell 3
DARLINGTON (52) – Tre’Quan Scott 17, Jalian Smith 11, Tyshaun Johnson 4, Kenyon Scott 11, De’Ondre Graham 5, Javorius Williams 2, Rodney Goodman 2