With the Region VI-4A lead on the line on Friday at The Swamp, Lakewood's varsity boys basketball team got off to a 9-0 start and seemed poised for an easy win over Darlington.
While the Gators, who entered game ranked No. 9 in the latest South …
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While the Gators, who entered game ranked No. 9 in the latest South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association 4A boys poll, eventually won by 11, 49-38, terming the win to be an easy one would be a bit of a stretch.
Lakewood held the Falcons scoreless until two Jalian Smith free throws at the 2:02 mark of the opening quarter. De'Ondre Graham scored Darlington's first basket with 59 seconds on the clock before Terrell Houston hit the back end of a 2-shot foul to break a 4:28 scoreless skein for the Gators, who stretched their lead back to eight, 12-4, as Javonte' Jones hit a low-post buzzer beater to close the quarter.
The game was still a low-scoring affair at halftime as Lakewood led 20-14. The only Gator points of the opening half of the second quarter came as Juwan Perdue hit on 2 of 4 free throw attempts. The score was 14-8 with 2:05 left when Houston found the basket from down low to push the Gator advantage back to eight. Ahkeem Lawson and Grant Singleton hit on 2-pointers to close out the first-half scoring for the Gators, with Darlington's Kenynon Scott draining 2 of 3 free throws to close out the scoring before the break.
Lakewood maintained the lead throughout a back-and-forth third quarter. The Falcons scored the first five points before the Gators answered with the next seven, making the score 27-19 with 2:58 on the clock. A Malik Rhodes tip-in to close that rally would prove to be the last Lakewood points of the quarter as Darlington closed with a 7-0 run to cut the lead to one, 27-26, heading to the final period.
The back-and-forth offensive game flow continued to open the fourth, with four straight points by Lakewood followed by a 5-0 Darlington run as the Falcons pulled even for the only time, 31-31, with 4:55 to go. Just when it seemed the Gators' hold on the game was shaky, Lakewood broke off an 8-0 run that proved to be enough to finally put the Falcons at bay. Darlington pulled within four, 42-38, on a Kris'shawn Hickman 3-point basket with 1:12 to go before the Gators scored the game's final seven points for the double-digit win, with steals by Perdue and Lawson setting up the final two baskets.
"We played against a good team with a great coach who's been coaching a long time, and we knew that they would scout us and then they would try to take our strengths away, so it was tough for us to score there at times," said Lakewood head coach Bryan Brown. "But I think our defense, that's what we do, kept us in the game and that's what won it for us in the end. We were able to get a couple of steals and couple of easy baskets there at the end to help us pull away."
Five Gator seniors accounted for 39 of Lakewood's 49 points against the Falcons. Leading the way was Lawson with 15, followed by Singleton and Houston with nine apiece.
"Those are our leaders. Those are the guys that have the most experience and those are the ones that we have to rely on, and they came through for us tonight," Brown said. "They made it tough for us to score inside. Of course, our shots didn't fall today but we played with a lot of energy and a lot of effort, and that's what we depend on to win basketball games."
The win ran Lakewood's record to 13-9 overall and 4-1 in the region while Darlington fell to 14-6 overall and 3-1 in region play. The Gators and Falcons still play once more in Darlington in a game that could determine the region championship.
"We try not to worry about the records," Brown said. "I know it's a modest thing to say, but we try to go game by game and we just accept whatever our best (effort) gives us. We just try to play our best every game and whatever our best gives us we just have to accept it and deal with it. I think that we control our own destiny from here on out. If we come and play with the same energy and the way that we played tonight in any other game that we play good in, we'll be fine."
Lakewood's girls also came away with an 11-point win on Friday, dispensing of Darlington by a score of 45-34. The Lady Gators outscored the Lady Falcons 10-4 in the opening quarter and 17-12 in the final quarter to account for the winning margin.
Lashala Harvin scored 19, including three treys, and Ki'Ari Cain added 14, with two threes, to pace the Lady Gators, who improved to 8-8 and 2-3.
Hope Richardson scored a game-high 21 to lead the Lady Falcons, who fell to 12-7 and 1-3.
Lakewood's varsity teams will be off on Tuesday before resuming play at home on Friday against region and Sumter School District rival Crestwood.
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