When Bryan Brown left his position as Lakewood High School's boys basketball head coach for the same position at Sumter High School, he knew the day would come that he would enter The Swamp as a rival coach.
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That day came on Friday, and it was an emotional one for Brown, who watched his Gamecock squad gut out a 39-36 win in a back-and-forth contest.
"It was definitely a tough environment to come into," said Brown, who served for four years as a Gator assistant coach before holding down the head post for the past four seasons. "This school and this community has treated me great the entire time I've been here, and we experienced a lot of success here. But I'm just happy that my guys came in here and fought hard and fought to win."
Following in Brown's footsteps is nothing new for first-year Lakewood head coach Edward Scott, who was a freshman on the Lower Richland High School team during Brown's senior season as a Diamond Hornet.
"I kind of came in after him there as well," said Scott, who was an assistant coach at River Bluff High School last season. "It was a very intense game, a lot of back and forth, which we knew it would be. We played these guys two times already (SHS winning each game by one point), and it was the exact same way, so we've just got to learn how to close games out. It's a work in progress. It would help if we could make some shots when we get the open looks, but it's all a part of it."
Neither team was making a whole lot of shots early, with the first basket coming at the 5:30 mark of the opening quarter on a breakaway slam dunk by Lakewood's Quentin Hodge. Jacquorey Melton got a putback, his only basket of the night, with 3:58 on the clock for a 4-0 Gator lead.
Sumter's first points came at 2:44 in the form of two Leslie Owens free throws, representing the Lakewood transfer's only points of the night. The first Gamecock basket came on a Nakeem Isaac steal and layup, with Isaac scoring six on a 9-0 run that included an Isaac bucket to open the second quarter.
Lakewood answered with a rally of its own, outscoring Sumter 11-2 before a Jaden McCants 3-point basket cut the Gators' halftime lead to one, 15-14.
Brown attributed the slow start to a lack of players with varsity experience on both sides.
"A lot of people don't realize that there's not many kids on that floor that have varsity experience," said Brown, whose team ran its record to 6-3. "There was two on Lakewood's side, and we've got Marcus Lane on our side. There's a lot of inexperience out there on both sides, and I think it was an at least even match. Both teams fought hard, and every time we've played it's been close."
The offense started to pick up a little bit in the third quarter, with two ties and one lead change. Both teams managed two 3s in the quarter, with Joseph Durant and Isaac hitting from long range for Sumter while Hodge and Kvon Selph connected for Lakewood. An Isaac jumper with four seconds on the clock broke the second tie and gave the Gamecocks a 30-28 lead heading to the final quarter.
The fourth quarter followed a similar script with two ties and two lead changes. A Daquan Rhodes 3 to open the stanza represented the first lead change, putting Lakewood up 31-30. Hodge connected from long distance to break the first tie and put the Gators up 35-32, then Hodge made a technical shot after a call against Durant to stretch the lead to four, 36-32, with 4:02 to go.
That would prove to be the last points of the night for the Gators as Sumter tied the score after low-post buckets from Isaac and Durant and took the lead as Devin Boston followed consecutive blocks on a defensive series with his only basket of the night. Peter Zhang went 1-for-2 at the line to put Sumter up by three with 1.8 seconds left and Selph's inbounds pass to midcourt was intercepted by Owens to seal the win.
Friday's game represented the middle of a grueling and emotional three days of basketball for Brown and his team. The Gamecocks opened play in Ridge View High School's Bojangle’s Bash on Thursday against Aspire Academy from Louisville, Kentucky, and were set to return to the Bash on Saturday afternoon to face off with former region rival South Florence.
"Yeah, it was tough, but I didn't want to turn down the opportunity to be in the Bash," said Brown, whose team took the court for pregame warmups wearing their Bojangle’s Bash shirts. "Of course, we took the opportunity and we knew it was going to be tough, but I think it's a good opportunity for us to learn how to fight."
Isaac scored 17 to lead Sumter while Hodge paced the Gators, now 1-4 with three of their losses coming to Sumter, with 19 points.
Sumter's varsity girls scored the game's first six points against Lakewood and never looked back, cruising to a 69-25 while improving to 7-1 on the season.
Tamerah Brown hit four treys among her game-high 22 points for the Lady Gamecocks, with Lakyn Cox adding 12 and Kiara Croskey chipping in nine, including a 3.
Tanaijah Wright scored 15, including Lakewood's only 3-pointer, as the Lady Gators fell to 2-2.
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