NORTH AUGUSTA 67, No. 1AIKEN 57
NORTH AUGUSTA — North Augusta head basketball coach Tony Harrell and his assistants had a message to their Yellow Jackets before Friday night's game about finishing the job.
That didn't happen Jan. 28, when they squandered a 12-point lead in the second half to lose at Aiken.
It couldn't happen again Friday – not it North Augusta wanted to defend its Region 5-AAAA championship.
So the Jackets kept their emotions in check, not getting caught up in the Senior Night festivities in front of a capacity crowd inside a gym so packed people had to be turned away at the door. Then they held the No. 1 team in the state in check, hanging on to a double-digit lead this time for a 67-57 win to clinch the league title.
"I'll say this. Our kids kept their focus the entire game," Harrell said. "They played the game between the lines. They didn't do any talking. They didn't look in the stands. They did exactly what I asked them to do as a coach, and I'm proud of them for that."
Revenge is sweet. It's even sweeter when there's a championship attached.
There was no blown lead this time, nor were there struggles from the 3-point line, nor was there a mismatch physically.
Colin Rodrigues scored a game-high 29 points, including a back-breaking 3-pointer and a thunderous windmill jam to put the game away. Jordan Wilburn and Omarion Byrd scored 12 points apiece, and they and Rodrigues combined to make six triples against Aiken's stingy defense.
Limiting the Jackets from deep was a big reason why Aiken pulled off the comeback win last time. This time, though, North Augusta got those big momentum shots in key moments.
"We knew we were going to shoot them better at home," Harrell said. "The thing about our 3-point shots tonight, they were all timely 3s. They either stopped runs or they started runs for us. Some of them were some deep 3s. The kids made plays. We were having success driving the ball to the basket, so that opened up the 3-point shot a little bit better also."
Charvis Jones and Darin Parker scored 13 apiece to lead the Hornets, and RJ Felton had 12 while battling a lower leg injury against his old school.
North Augusta (16-10, 9-1) led by one after one quarter and five at the half, then Rodrigues and company pushed ahead by 13 heading into the fourth quarter.
Aiken (23-3, 9-1) threatened to again come from behind to beat the Jackets, cutting it to seven at both the 5:09 and 4:35 marks.
Rodrigues and Byrd each hit 3s, the latter pushing the lead back to 12 with 2:22 to play.
"We were up in the third quarter over at Aiken, and we didn't finish," said Harrell. "But tonight, we were up five at halftime and they hit a quick 5-0 run to start the third quarter – but we never panicked. We stayed locked in to what we wanted to do defensively, and offensively our players made plays."
The Jackets will open the Class AAAA playoffs Wednesday at home against an at-large opponent. Aiken will get the No. 2 seed and will host Bluffton on Wednesday.
No. 2 North Augusta 67, Aiken 31
North Augusta cruised to another unbeaten Region 5-AAAA championship, beating Aiken 67-31.
Aiken briefly led in the first quarter, and the teams were tied at 10 after the first 8 minutes – but then the Lady Jackets did what they usually do, outscoring Aiken 30-9 in the second quarter to take a 21-point lead at the half.
J'Mani Ingram scored 22 points, Tyliah Burns had 18 and P'eris Smith added 12 for North Augusta (23-2, 10-0), which will open the playoffs at home Tuesday against an at-large opponent.
AJ Jones scored nine points to lead Aiken, Norriyah Bradley had eight and Te'asia Hair added six. Aiken (11-10, 5-5) finished tied with South Aiken for third in the region, but will take the No. 3 seed based on point differential in the games played by the two schools. The Hornets will host Marlboro County on Tuesday in the first round of the playoffs.
The Lady Jackets have won 45 consecutive games against region opponents, a streak that began Jan. 12, 2016, with a win at White Knoll. That came after the Lady Jackets lost their region opener to Lexington – they haven't lost a league game since.
The Class AAAA bracket sets up for North Augusta, the three-time defending state champion, to play at home in the first three rounds of the playoffs before a potential trip to another Lower State championship game in Florence. The Lady Jackets will begin that journey Wednesday, and they will likely be fueled by the sting of their 70-game in-state winning streak coming to an end last month against now-No. 1 Westwood.
For Aiken, it's a return to the postseason after missing the playoffs two years in a row. The Hornets had lost 19 in a row in region play coming into this season, but ended that streak with a 20-point win over South Aiken to start a 5-5 run through the league schedule – their best finish since going 9-1 in Region 5-AAA in 2015-16.