Even with two starters --- guard Josh Gary and center Tyshaun Cobb --- being held out for the first half, Lugoff-Elgin was right where it wanted to be, trailing visiting Sumter, 21-20, with just over three minutes left in the second quarter of Tuesday’s Region 4-5A opener.
Then, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, it all came unraveled for the host Demons as the Gamecocks closed the first 16 minutes of play on a 9-0 run and never looked back before pulling away for the 73-50 win inside the Demons Den.
Playing without injured 6-foot-7 post player and Boston College signee Gavin Felder, Sumter still managed to inflict damage inside the paint area against L-E. The visitors scored 36 points from within the confines of the foul lane while getting the better of things under the glass, for the most part.
With Felder on the bench watching the action in street clothes, L-E opened in a man-to-man defense and stayed with the guests until the latter stages of the second stanza when Sumter made its move.
“I knew it was 21-20 and then, right before halftime, it was 30-20,” said L-E head coach Garrett Knight after his team slipped to 4-9 on the season. “We kind of did the same thing in the fourth quarter where we fell off in our scoring.
“They proved to be too much for us tonight. We played them tough in the third quarter; tied them at 16-16, and had them right where we wanted them. We just could never cut the lead down to single digits, though.”
The Demons reduced the deficit to nine points, trailing 41-32 after a Zarrius Salmond putback with 2:20 left in the third quarter. Sumter used a pair of O’Donnell Fortune free throws before he picked up a loose ball and laid it home 19 seconds later to cushion the Gamecocks’ lead to 46-32. The quarter ended with L-E getting a pair of foul shots from Spencer Hinton and a Jordan Williams steal and layin to cut the margin back to 10, at 46-36, heading into the final quarter.
The visitors used six points from guard Jalen Johnson in the opening two minutes of the fourth quarter to fuel a 10-0 rally which all but put this game out of reach at 56-36 with just over six minutes remaining to be played.
“They were very aggressive on defense,” Knight said of Sumter’s man-to-man pressure. “My guys were getting frustrated because they were in their midsection but, it is what it is. We were doing that some, too, to them. It seemed like we were a bit mentally weak in the second half tonight in dealing with their intensity on defense.”
The Demons went toe-to-toe with Sumter in the first quarter and used a 10-foot Williams jumper to close to within 10-9 with 2:45 showing on the clock. Sumter’s Omar Croskey then sandwiched Salmond’s pull-up jumper with a short jumper and a 3-point bomb of his own to put SHS up, 15-11, in a quarter which closed with Hinton sticking a 10-foot jumper and then putting back a missed shot in the closing 32 seconds to even things at 15 heading into the second quarter.
With Felder out, Knight said he felt more comfortable playing man-to-man against the Gamecocks who were also without 6-foot-7 forward Eric Watts, who graduated from high school early after signing to play college football at UConn.
“We kind of got lucky there because they didn’t have two 6-7 guys inside,” Knight said of starting out in a man-to-man defensive scheme. “We tried it a little bit early in the game and then, we slipped back into an aggressive zone defense and tried to trap the ball when it went to the corner,” he said.
“We had some good success on defense but they just had some run outs in the second half which pushed the score up too much on us.”
Hinton continued his red-hot shooting from the field in the second stanza as the 6-foot-5 sophomore found himself alone under the basket for an easy pair before adding another putback to knot things at 19 two minutes into the second eight minutes of play. A steal and slam from Croskey returned the lead to Sumter. A Williams free throw, which closed the gap to 21-20 with 4:14 left before intermission, was the final first half point for the hosts as Sumter went on a 9-0 spree heading into the break.
A five-foot floater from Cobb opened the second half scoring as L-E trailed, 30-22, seven seconds into the second half. A Croskey slam capped an 8-4 Sumter surge as the lead grew to 38-26 at the 3:53 mark of the third quarter.
A 10-foot Cobb jumper, off an inbounds feed, and a Salmond putback with 2:20 left in the quarter put the Demons back in single figures, trailing 41-32. Sumter would increase the 10-point lead which it enjoyed at halftime by getting four straight points from Fortune to boost the lead to 46-32 before Williams’ steal and layin on the play chopped the margin to 46-36 heading into the final quarter.
Johnson’s 19 points led the Gamecocks and all scorers while Salmond led a trio of Demons in double figures with 13 points. Cobb added 11 off the bench while Hinton enjoyed a strong night on both ends of the floor by adding 10 points.
The Demons will host Spring Valley tonight in another conference pairing. Knight said there are no gimmes in Region 4-5A.
“That’s exactly what we told our guys in the locker room,” he said. “It’s region time now and every game is serious. We have to show up at 3:30 p.m. (Wednesday) and be ready to practice and get ready for Spring Valley. It’s going to be intense like this game. Playing the Richland County teams, it’s going to be the same type of concept and playing with this same type of aggression all night long.”
SHS (73): Omar Croskey 6 0-3 13, Jodarviyae Durant 1 2-2 4, Kareem Brunson 2 2-5 6, Tylee Craft 2 2-2 6, Jalen Johnson 8 1-1 19, Keshawn Croskey 2 1-2 5, Kwaleek Jones 1 2-2 4, M. Lane 1 0-2 2, O’Donnell Fortune 2 2-2 7, Cody McCoy 0 1-2 1, Carldrelle Cooper 2 0-0 4, Keron Benbow 1 0-0 2. Totals: 28 13-25 73
L-E (50): James Anderson 1 2-2 4, Jordan Williams 3 3-4 9, Zarrius Salmond 6 1-2 13, Spencer Hinton 4 2-2 10, Tyshaun Cobb 5 1-1 11, Josh Gary 1 0-2 3. Totals: 20 9-13 50
Score by quarters: First: Tied at 15; Halftime: SHS, 30-20; Third: SHS, 46-36; Three-point goals: SHS 4 (Johnson 2, Fortune, O. Croskey), L-E 1 (Gary)