Lakewood High School's varsity boys basketball team entered Region IV-4A play with just a 3-8 overall record. Just two games into region play though and it's obvious the Gators are playing much better than they did in non-region action.
Lakewood beat Orangeburg-Wilkinson 44-40 last Tuesday at The Swamp to open region play and then lost a nail biter to A.C. Flora 52-46 on Friday, again at The Swamp.
The significance of the closeness of the game against Flora is that it entered the contest ranked No. 3 in the state among 4A schools in the most recent South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association Top Ten poll with a 14-2 overall record. Even without their starting center and shooting guard, the Gators gave the Falcons everything they could handle.
Part of the reason for the rough start to the season is a brutal schedule filled with some of the top teams in the state. Lakewood opened the regular season against Aiken, ranked No. 8 in 4A, faced River Bluff twice, which is ranked No. 8 in 5A, 2A No. 2 Lee Central twice and 5A Sumter High School three times.
"We built the schedule this way so that we'd be prepared for the region," said Lakewood head coach Ed Scott whose team is now 4-9 overall and 1-1 in region play. "We're kinda used to these (close) games, but we just gotta come out on the winning side more often. I think our schedule has probably been one of the hardest."
The other reason for the Gators' slow start is their struggles from the free throw line. Lakewood lost to Sumter three times by just five total points. They lost to Aiken by just four points, and they shot just 7-of-20 from the line in the loss to A.C. Flora.
Friday's game featured 17 lead changes. The Gators led 19-17 at halftime, but were outscored 35-27 in the second half. Lakewood held a 46-45 lead with just 55 seconds remaining, but Flora connected on a 3-point basket on its next possession. The Gators turned the ball over trying to inbound the ball on the ensuing possession, and Flora connected on its free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
Senior guard Quentin Hodge was the star for the Gators, scoring 18 points despite missing several minutes after he fell hard on a block attempt midway through the fourth quarter. Hodge also had to be subbed out of the game when he was fouled earlier in the fourth quarter because of blood on his jersey. Zayveon Wells replaced Hodge at the line, but missed both free throws.
"(Quentin) is a great player," said Scott. "We lean on him a lot because we're a young team. Tonight we started two sophomores and a junior. Our starting center (Kvon Selph) and starting shooting guard (DaQuan Rhodes) were out tonight, but we're building and we're starting to count on everyone. We're learning how to play how we want to play."
Things don't get any easier for the Gators in region play. After the close home loss to the third-ranked Falcons, Lakewood heads to Hopkins on Tuesday at face Lower Richland, where Scott was a star point guard before going on to an All-Atlantic Coast Conference career at Clemson.
The Diamond Hornets are ranked second in 4A.
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