Aiken Hornets break fast against South Aiken Thoroughbreds
AIKEN 46, SOUTH AIKEN 33
Friday night was the first renewal of boys' basketball version of the Battle of Aiken. And both Aiken and the host team, South Aiken, came into the game looking like the walking wounded.
The Hornets were without star player Dramel Coleman, one of their most productive players on the season. Coleman had surgery earlier this week on the injured meniscus in his left knee and very likely could miss the rest of the season.
The Thoroughbreds were forced to play without Jordan Scott, their top player. The point guard hurt his knee in Thursday's practice, and his status going forward is in question.
Although they lost senior leader Deon Hicks to hand injury for the second half, the Hornets made the best of the injury situation. They stormed out to a quick lead, which they maintained throughout in a 46-33 victory over their crosstown rival.
“I thought the team played extremely hard and the defensive intensity was outstanding,” Aiken head coach Tony Harrell said of his team, which smothered the T-Breds in the first quarter; forcing turnovers, pouncing on loose balls and controlling the backboards. “I wanted to get out of the gate early and set the tone.”
In front of a capacity crowd, many of whom were on hand to see the T-Breds retire the jersey of former football star and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Dekoda Watson, Aiken showed why it's tied for first place in Region 5-AAAA. It opened the game on a 5-0 run and scored 13 of the first 16 points in the game, establishing a lead it would never surrender.
Many of the points came as the Hornets (13-6, 4-1) exploited Scott's absence. After made baskets and South Aiken rebounds under the Aiken hoop, the Hornets would blitz the T-Breds' ball handlers from the back side, forcing turnovers and good scoring opportunities. At the end of the first quarter, Aiken led 22-9.
Megal hill attacked the rim throughout the game and led all players with 12 points. Devante Gaiters had one of his best performances of the season and logged several critical minutes as the Hornets endured without Coleman and Hicks. Gaiters hit three 3-point shots and finished with 11 points.
It wasn't a case of the Hornets giving more effort than the T-Breds (4-11, 0-5), they just were longer and faster and better equipped to play a man down. The final score might have been worse if Aiken hadn't encountered some bad luck in the second and third quarters, when a high number of quality shots rolled off the rim. Two of the players who had shots roll the wrong way were Stacy Toole (eight points) and Jordan McKevie (four points). They were active in the paint and created several quality looks and were always a threat to draw defenders before kicking to an open teammate. But many of their shots just didn't fall.
“When you get shots in the flow of the game, good looks, I can live with it as a coach if they don't go in. They just didn't fall,” said Harrell, who credited South Aiken for playing tough on defense throughout the game. “We had a lot of good looks and weren't able to convert. South Aiken did a great job and this was a good, hard-fought win.”
T-Breds coach Drew Jernigan was pleased with his team's performance, especially how it fared without Scott.
“We were dealt difficult cards to play. … That said, guys handled themselves well, particularly in the second half,” Jernigan said. “I'm proud of the guys still out there giving us what they've got in difficult circumstances.”
Damian Brown, who came back from a scary looking fall to the floor in the first quarter, tied Zelair Knowles for team best with eight points. The T-Breds won't have to wait long as they try to get their first region win this season. They return to action today, playing at Dutch Fork, in a make-up game from one that was postponed Tuesday because of the winter storm.
Aiken's next game will also be at Dutch Fork, where they'll play on Tuesday and look to stay on top of the region standings.
“Each win in region gets us closer to making the playoffs and that's been our goal,” Harrell said. “We're fighting like crazy to get there. We're coming together as a team. It's not always pretty, but it's effective.”
AIK 22 6 6 12 – 46
SA 9 8 9 7 – 33
Aiken (13-6, 4-1 Region 5-AAAA)—Megal Hill 4 4-6 12, Devante Gaiters 4 0-0 11, Nakeem Spann 0 1-4 1, Deon Hicks 2 0-0 4, Stacy Toole 4 0-0 8, D.J. Kitchings 1 1-2 3, Jordan McKevie 2 0-0 4, Dominic Chaplin 1 0-0 3. Totals: 18 6-12 46.
3-Pointers: Gaiters (3), Chaplin.
South Aiken (4-11, 0-5 Region 5-AAAA)—Damian Brown 3 2-4 8, Kingsley Priester 2 3-4 7, DJ Perry 2 0-0 5, Mark Moore 2 1-2 5, Zelair Knowles 4 0-0 8. Totals: 13 6-10 33.
AIKEN 32 SOUTH AIKEN 26
Knotted in a tie with less than three minutes to play, the Aiken High School girls' basketball team closed its rivalry game at South Aiken on a 6-0 run for a critical 32-26 win in Region 5-AAAA action.
Alexis Odom scored three of those points for the Hornets (6-12, 2-3) as part of her game-best 16-point performance. It was a strong second half for Odom, as she scored a dozen critical points after intermission. That kept her team in the game and eventually elevated it to the victory.
After struggling to score against Aiken's aggressive defense in the first half, the T-Breds (6-9, 1-4) came out strong in the third quarter. They turned a halftime deficit into a narrow lead, which would've been bigger if Odom hadn't found her scoring touch.
“South Aiken came out in the second half with good intensity,” Aiken head coach Aubrey Pompey said. “We had to try to match that with defensive intensity.” It worked, as the T-Breds were limited to just five points in the fourth quarter, and didn't get many quality looks in the final three minutes.
“I said, 'lets shut them down,' and they did a good job,” said Pompey, whose team remains in the region hunt and will return to action on Tuesday at Dutch Fork. “Hopefully this win puts some wind in our saidl.”
Morgan Fair and Emily Koger led South Aiken, scoring 10 points apiece. They'll try to help the T-Breds rebound today when they travel to Dutch Fork. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m.
AIK 7 6 7 12 – 32
SA 2 8 11 5 – 26
Aiken (6-12, 2-3 Region 5-AAAA)—Miracle Johnson 2 1-2 5, Maggie Odom 2 0-0 5, Alexis Odom 6 4-6 16, Sophie Nance 2 0-2 4, Isabelle Holland 1 0-0 2. Totals: 13 5-10 32.
3-Pointers: Maggie Odom.
South Aiken (6-9, 1-4 Region 5-AAAA)—Emily Koger 5 0-0 10, Morgan Fair 4 2-6 10, Keisha Whitaker 1 1-4 3, Randi Damron 1 1-2 3. Totals: 11 4-12 26.
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.