44 days later, REL and TSA finally wrap up matchup


BISHOPVILLE -- Robert E. Lee Academy's Andrew Paulson laid the ball into the hoop for the first basket of the third quarter of REL's varsity boys basketball game against Thomas Sumter Academy on Wednesday, stretching the Cavaliers' lead to 16-12.

It was the first basket in the game in 44 days. Yep, you read that correctly -- 44 days.

Robert E. Lee and Thomas Sumter Academy originally started their game on Dec. 9, but the game was suspended at halftime due to the combination of an unusually hot December day and a packed gymnasium causing condensation to build up on the floor, making it unsafe for the players.

"It got slick in here the night we played them, and we had to cancel, and then they came back tonight," said Robert E. Lee head coach David Rankin, whose team improved to 3-8 overall this season with the 38-33 victory. "We had to postpone the game because somebody could've gotten hurt."

What followed on Wednesday was a surreal sight for anyone accustomed to watching REL and TSA play in front of packed gyms, especially when they face each other.

Just 39 fans lined the bleachers of the Doty Dome. I counted.

At one point, early in the fourth quarter with the Cavaliers leading 30-25, a fan's cell phone began to ring, echoing throughout the gym as Thomas Sumter Academy senior Josh Fugate stepped to the free throw line. A light-hearted "Shh" followed, and Fugate promptly sank both free throws.

Fugate scored all 11 of TSA's points in the fourth quarter, nearly willing his team to victory. Just a few minutes later he made a 3-point shot to tie the game at 32-32, drawing a foul in the process. He gave TSA a 33-32 lead on the subsequent free throw with just 2:57 to play. It was TSA's first lead since holding a 6-4 advantage back on Dec. 9.

REL's Lucas Friedenberger answered with his own basket and made free throw to push the Cavaliers' lead to 35-33. Matthew Johnson put the finishing touches on the game on a layup with just over 10 seconds remaining as TSA struggled to foul REL in the closing seconds.

"We'll take the win over a rival," said Rankin, who also noted he hadn't taken part in a suspended game like this in his 34 years as athletic director or coach. "I thought we played good at times, then we made some boneheaded plays. We had some times we could've folded, we got down by one late, and then got it inside, made some shots, and made our free throws down the stretch to win the game."

The win came at a good time for the Cavaliers, who snapped a 5-game losing streak.

"We hustle and we play really hard," said Rankin. "We play really good defense, but we struggle sometimes shooting the ball. If we can get the offense going we're a decent basketball team. I'm very proud of the hustle they're giving, and they're giving all they've got. That's all I can ask."