GRANITEVILLE — Strom Thurmond turned a tie ballgame after the first quarter into a 67-55 win over Silver Bluff in the semifinals of the Aiken County Challenge, and their ability to get to the free-throw line and make the shots were a huge part of the victory.
The Rebels (6-4) hit 13 of their 16 attempts from the charity stripe, a fact that surprised even head coach Bo Rouse.
“That is unbelievable,” Rouse said, adding that his team normally struggles from the line. “They wanted to be in the championship game, so here we are.”
Senior guard Josh Hamilton, not usually a big-time scorer, led the way for the Rebels in that effort by hitting all five of his free-throw attempts as part of a game-best 16-point night that also included making his only 3-point attempt.
Rouse said that scoring has been a recent addition to Hamilton’s list of abilities.
“One of the things about Josh, he is our point guard; he is our leader,” Rouse said. “He really did play hard tonight.”
The Rebels also got double-digit scoring from JaSergio Kennion and Ty Brooks, who both had 10. Rouse said his team “stepped up” to cover for usual leading scorer Daquarius Johnson, who had only six points on the game.
The same was true for Silver Bluff (5-5) and senior guard Donte Wright, who finished the game with 15 points and a 6-for-6 free throw performance but only after missing his first 13 attempts from the floor.
Head coach Robbie McKenzie said the struggles were not limited to Wright and that the Rebels were not a team he was comfortable playing from behind against.
“It wasn’t anybody’s night shooting the ball,” he said. “That’s not a kind of team you want to fall behind to; they’re too athletic.”
Jaylen Lawrence also scored in double-digits for the Bulldogs with 11, and McKenzie said an additional scorer would be important for his team heading into region play.
“You need a guy to step up and be that second scorer, and he’s done that,” McKenzie said of Lawrence.
Both teams had trouble scoring until the fourth quarter, which the Rebels won 23-21.
Silver Bluff will play in today’s 3 p.m. consolation game against Wagener-Salley, while Strom Thurmond will play against host Midland Valley in the championship game at 4:30 p.m.
Rouse said many of his players – like Ty and Hykeem Brooks, Aaron Cook and Kendall Hill – are accustomed to playing big games on the gridiron but not necessarily in the gym.
“It’s very important,” he said of an early-season high-pressure game. “Our guys are used to that in football, but they’re not used to that in basketball.”
ST 12 16 16 23 - 67
SB 12 10 12 21 - 55
Strom Thurmond (5-4)—JaSergio Kennion 4 1-2 10, Baylor Jones 2 2-2 6, Daquarius Hammond 3 0-0 6, Josh Hamilton 5 5-5 16, Ryan Williams 2 4-6 8, Jaylan Robinson 2 0-0 5, Hykeem Brooks 3 0-0 6, Ty Brooks 4 1-1 10. Totals 25 13-16 67.
3-pointers: Kennion, Hamilton, Robinson, T. Brooks.