GRANITEVILLE — The Strom Thurmond Rebels overcame an eight-point fourth quarter deficit to stun Midland Valley on its home floor, 50-44, and capture the Aiken County Challenge championship Saturday afternoon in a nail biting finale.
“I’m not going to say we’re the best, but that means we’re getting better,” Strom Thurmond head coach Bo Rouse said of the title. “The football players are getting their feet under them and they’re getting into basketball shape. That means we’re getting better.”
The Rebels notched victories over South Aiken and Silver Bluff to reach the championship game. According to Rouse, Strom Thurmond’s difficult non-region schedule has aided in the Rebels’ improvement.
“A lot of people criticize me for playing Butler and Aiken,” he said. “They make us better.”
After struggling to get into a rhythm offensively for three quarters, the Rebels (7-4) exploded for 21 points in the final frame. A 3-pointer by Daquarius Johnson gave Strom Thurmond its first lead of the game at 44-43 with 2:57 to play.
Johnson’s triple followed a thunderous put-back slam that brought the Rebels within two. He led Strom Thurmond with 18 points in the game, with 12 of them coming in a pivotal fourth quarter.
Djuan Green sank a free throw to tie the game at 44, but Midland Valley would not score again. The Mustangs (9-5) ran out of gas at the end of the game, scoring just nine points in the fourth quarter after leading by as many as eight.
Another Johnson basket put Strom Thurmond back on top, and then a Ty Brooks layup gave the Rebels a four-point advantage with time running out.
Strom Thurmond had a size advantage at nearly every position on the floor, allowing the Rebels to score second-chance points and keep the Mustangs off of the boards. Otherwise, the Mustangs could have run away with the title.
The first three quarters were relatively even, with Midland Valley just beyond Strom Thurmond’s reach. The Mustangs led by three points after the first quarter, five at halftime, and by six heading into the fourth. The Rebels refused to quit, hanging around long enough to take control when it counted.
“We kept encouraging them,” Rouse said. “We’ve played seven games in 10 days. We were tired. One of the things we told them in the locker room was ‘don’t ever quit’. They played hard.”
In addition to Johnson, tournament MVP Sergio Kennion was clutch in the fourth quarter. He scored five of his 12 points early in the period to draw the Rebels within striking distance.
Midland Valley received balanced contributions from their scorers. Green led the Mustangs with 11 points. All-Tournament selections Kameron Brown and Daniel Carr each scored seven. Jaquan Hall also pitched in with seven points, including a 3-pointer late that appeared to quell a Strom Thurmond comeback.
Instead, Johnson took over. He outscored Midland Valley, 8-4, over the game’s final 4:44. All-Tournament selection Josh Hamilton’s pair of free throws with 18.9 seconds remaining iced it.
ST 7 12 10 21 — 50
MV 10 14 11 9 — 44
Strom Thurmond (7-4)—Daquarius Johnson 7 3-4 18, Sergio Kennion 4 4-9 12, Ty Brooks 3 0-1 6, Ryan Williams 2 2-2 6, Hykeem Brooks 2 0-0 4, Josh Hamilton 1 2-2 4. Totals 19 11-18 50.
Midland Valley (9-5)—Djuan Green 4 3-5 11, Kameron Brown 2 2-4 7, Daniel Carr 2 3-4 7, Jaquan Hall 3 0-0 7, Javoddis Coach 3 0-0 6, Latrell Lee 2 0-0 5, Jaysen Jones 0 1-2 1. Totals 16 9-15 44.
3-pointers: Brown, Hall, Lee.
Jordan Dingle – South Aiken
Ty Jones – Batesburg-Leesville
Sam Powell – Lakeside
Logan Johnson – Hephzibah
Donte Wright – Silver Bluff
RJ Tyler – Wagener-Salley
Baylor Jones – Strom Thurmond
Josh Hamilton – Strom Thurmond
Kameron Brown – Midland Valley
Daniel Carr – Midland Valley
MVP – Sergio Kennion, Strom Thurmond