SUMMERTON -- R.J. Gibson scored 10 of his team-high 18 points, including a game-winning layup as time expired, in the fourth quarter as the Scott's Branch High School varsity boys basketball team punched its ticket to the 1A lower state championship game with a thrilling 55-53 victory over Military Magnet Academy on Tuesday at Jones Gymnasium.
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Gibson's game-winner came after Tawan Campbell sank a 3-point basket with 12 seconds remaining to forge the tie. Scott's Branch head coach Stephen Nelson let the final sequence play out rather than call a timeout, trusting his freshman point guard to make a play.
"My thinking was we were going to take the last shot, and either we were going to win it or we were going to go into overtime," Nelson said. "So I was telling him to bring it up so that he could take a shot. I knew Randy could get to the basket, get to the rim, on any of them, so I told him to bring it up and he went to the basket with it."
With the win, the Eagles improved to 16-6 on the season. They will meet Charleston Math & Science for a berth in the state title game on Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Florence Center. That game will follow the 1A girls game pitting Scott's Branch against Military Magnet, which is slated for a 4 p.m. start. The Lady Eagles claimed their spot on Monday with a 60-44 home-court win over Baptist Hill.
"I was telling them for the whole season that we don't get any respect," Nelson said. "Nobody was expecting us to go this far, and they have to play like nobody respects them. Play hard, go out, have fun and play. All year we were discussing that (both teams advancing to lower state and potentially beyond). I was telling them the girls are going to make it there, and we've got to do our part and make it there. Just go out, execute what we've planned all year long and just play hard. If it's going to work out, we're going to make it there."
In a battle of dueling Eagle squads, it was the homestanding Eagles that held the upper hand for most of the night over the visitors from North Charleston. Scott's Branch scored the game's first seven points and led by as much as nine before settling for a 21-16 edge as Antavius Stukes hit a low-post bucket to close the opening quarter. Stukes scored seven of his 13 points in the opening stanza.
The lead would fluctuate between three and seven throughout the second quarter. With Scott's Branch clinging to a 27-24 advantage, Stukes followed a miss with 40 seconds to go, then Zakee Rendell just missed a late layup attempt that circled and touched every part of the rim before falling short. Rendell was fouled on the play and sank both of his free throws with less than a second on the clock as the home Eagles took a 7-point lead, 31-24, into the break.
An Xavier White 3 to open the second-half scoring quickly cut the lead to four and it would be a sign of things to come for the visiting Eagles. Scott's Branch led 39-34 after Tariq Coard hit a jumper in the lane with 2:28 to go, but Military Magnet would score the next six points to take its first lead, 40-39, on another Campbell basket.
Stukes would hit two free throws to put the home team back on top before Deandre Wailes hit his only bucket of the night on the post for a 42-41 Military Magnet lead heading to what would be a suspenseful final quarter.
After a long but fruitless Military Magnet possession to open the fourth, Stukes hit the back end of a 2-shot foul with 6:29 remaining to tie the score at 42. The visitors would then get quick baskets from Trevon Spillers and Christian White to go up 46-42, its largest lead, with 5:31 on the clock, necessitating a Nelson timeout.
"I told the boys,’Llook, we're not playing defense,’ Nelson said. ‘Y'all are not playing like you want to be champions. If you want to be champions then you're going to have to gut it out and play.’ So they came back out and made the run."
Gibson would start a 9-0 Scott's Branch run with a fall-away inside scoop that he would convert into a 3-point play. Another Gibson free throw would tie the score and then Gibson steals on the next two defensive series resulted in baskets for Montrez Sinkler and Gibson. A Sinkler free throw put the home team up 51-46, leading to a nerve-wracking final 2:37.
Spillers converted a steal into a layup and followed with a slam dunk to pull Military Magnet within one before Gibson went to the line and hit the back end of two shots, then returned and hit the front end of two, leaving Scott's Branch up 53-50 with 28 seconds to go and setting the stage for the finish.
Gibson added seven steals, six rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots while Stukes grabbed nine boards and dished out three assists.
Xavier White scored 14, Spillers chipped in 12 and Christian White ended with 10 for the visiting Eagles, who closed their season with a 19-9 record.
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