Special to the Aiken Standard

The Aiken High boys’ basketball team rode a strong defensive effort Tuesday night, building a big early lead over archrival South Aiken and never looking back en route to a 59-43 home victory.

“We blocked a lot of shots, got our hands on a lot of passes,” Aiken coach Tony Harrell said. “Our defense carried us tonight.”

With 1:30 remaining in the opening quarter and both teams struggling to find a rhythm, the Thoroughbreds (6-10, 2-3 Region 5-AAAA) finally got a clean look at the basket. Or so it seemed. Stacy Toole sent Rock Kirkland’s driving layup attempt flying toward the back exit, kick starting a 15-1 Hornets run and electrifying the home crowd.

“I saw two great efforts on the play, because Deon Hicks actually took a charge on that same play,” Harrell said. “And Stacy came over the top and made a fantastic block and it just energized the whole place. We used that energy to make our run.”

The infectious energy spread throughout the Aiken (14-5, 4-1 Region 5-AAAA) lineup. Hicks drilled a 3-pointer from well beyond the arc shortly after, and then Justin Smith followed with a triple of his own. By the time Shawn Moore rocked the rim with a breakaway slam dunk, the Hornets had surged to a 19-5 advantage.

Though the offense wasn’t in sync throughout the game, Aiken held a 4-1 advantage in 3-pointers made. Hicks drained his second just before halftime and Moore added one of his own in the third quarter.

“We had a couple kids make threes that hadn’t made them lately, and that was big for us,” Harrell said. “It propelled us to a halftime lead and we were able to keep it all game.”

The Hornets carried a commanding 26-12 lead into the break, prompting South Aiken coach Drew Jernigan to tweak his offensive attack.

“We tried to talk about getting the ball inside more,” he said. “Sometimes we converted, sometimes we didn’t. We have to all play better.”

The Thoroughbreds attacked the basket better after intermission, converting around the rim and at the free-throw line to keep the game from getting out of hand.

“We didn’t do the things that we needed to do to win the game,” Jernigan said. “We got outplayed inside, got outplayed outside, got outcoached. We just got beat.”

Moore led the offensive attack for the Hornets in the second half, scoring 16 of his game-high 22 points after the break. Moore hit 7-of-8 free throws and scored after multiple offensive rebounds to pad his point total.

Despite the second half improvements, Jernigan hopes to see more spirited play from his Thoroughbreds in their next game.

“Our resolve will be tested as we move forward. We’ll see what kind of effort we come out with on Friday night. If we’re ready to play, then I’ll be happy.”

Both teams next will take the court on Friday. South Aiken hosts Dutch Fork while the Hornets travel to play White Knoll.

SA 5 7 13 18 – 43

A 14 12 13 20 – 59

South Aiken (6-10, 2-3 5-AAAA)—Jordan Dingle 3 6-7 12, Jordan Scott 4 2-3 10, Latrell Brown 2 1-1 5, Richard Davis 1 2-2 5, Austin Kyles 1 2-2 4, Wayne Preston 1 2-3 4, Abram Elam 1 0-1 2, Rasool Clemmons 0 1-2 1. Totals 13 16-21 43.

3-pointers: Davis.

Aiken (14-5, 4-1 5-AAAA)—Shawn Moore 7 7-8 22, Dramel Coleman 6 0-0 12, Deon Hicks 3 0-2 8, Megal Hill 2 0-0 4, Stacy Toole 2 0-0 4, Jordan Habersham 1 0-0 2, Mike Lee 1 0-0 2, Ryan McKie 0 2-4 2. Totals 23 9-14 59.

3-pointers: Hicks (2), Moore, Smith.