Southside High School defeated Dillon High School to win the State AAA Basketball Championship. Here is a photo gallery from the game.
PHOTOS BY JOHNNIE DANIELS/THE DILLON HERALD AND CRAIG BROWN
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By Craig Brown
Arguably the two best South Carolina high school basketball teams met on the court Saturday evening in Columbia at the Colonial Life Arena with the mighty Dillon Wildcats going against the Tigers of Southside High School of Greenville for the AAA State Championship.
The Wildcats went down 65-57 in a heartbreaker. The old saying the best teams don’t always win could hold a lot of truth as Dillon certainly had the talent to stay with any team in the state.
There were a lot of circumstances that led to what caused the Wildcats to fall short. The game started over an hour behind schedule and the Wildcats were not given the usual warmup time to get familiar with the court.
None of the Dillon players had ever played in such an atmosphere with over ten thousand screaming fans present in an awe inspiring arena.
Granted the Tigers had the same limitations but the country boys from Dillon rarely see buildings taller than two stories but not so for the players from Greenville.
A twenty-minute warmup could have steadied the Wildcat shooters in the early going allowing them to take an early lead instead of playing catchup the entire game.
Johnnie Daniels and I left Dillon with ample time to make the scheduled 4 p.m. game but we could have taken our time due to the delays. On the way we talked about the last time the two of us went to see the Wildcats play for the title. We were teenagers and the year was 1969. We both worked at the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, “A&P” The Family Dollar is located there now. The A&P employed several high school kids in those days, and we all wanted to go to the big game in Columbia. I was in the last group to get off that night and did not believe there was any way for me to get to the game on time. But a full time employee, Russel Stone wanted to go and he had a brand new SS 396 Chevelle. I can’t remember all of the riders but Russel Hyatt was there. Johnnie might have been the manager’s pet because he got to leave early for the game. There were no interstate highways then but we made it with minutes to spare.
Obviously all of the patrolmen and police officers were at the game or we would not have made it.
The Wildcats were finishing warmups when we arrived. Those warmups may have made the difference in 1969 and the lack of them may have been the difference in 2017.
Luck or lack of good luck also plays into a game. The play from the Tigers had a lot to do with the outcome of the game, but I still think the Wildcats were the better team.
The Wildcats out rebounded the Tigers by a margin of 47-32 but their shooting was not as steady as it had been in previous games.
The Tigers were tall but the Wildcats were fast. The Wildcats gave it their all from the opening tip off to the final buzzer fighting all the way.
The opening tip-off had Dillon’s Ty’Quan Porter going against a much taller Tiger with Porter winning the matchup. The Tigers took an early eight point lead forcing the Wildcats to play catchup the remainder of the game.
The Wildcats closed within two points on three occasions in the game but were never able to take the lead.
The first quarter of play ended with the Tigers up 16-10 over the Wildcats but the Cats picked up the pace in the second quarter but were still outscored 11-9 by the Tigers to go into the halftime break trailing 27-19.
The scoring in the second half was considerably higher. The Wildcats put up 16 points in the third period holding the Tigers to 15 to close the Tiger lead to 42-35.
Like the third quarter the final quarter was almost point for point with the Tigers adding 23 points to the Wildcats 22 points for a final 65-57 Tiger win. It was one of the greatest basketball games I have ever witnessed and it was a shame someone had to lose.
Even sadder it was the Wildcats that lost. It should be noted that probably no one has wished for a Wildcat championship more than the players of the 1969 team.
They were unique champions but they were Wildcats and do not want the streak to end with what they did.
The 1969 team was likely the greatest team in the history of South Carolina basketball with the reserves so good that they not only would have been starters for most teams that year but also stars.
The team was a freak of nature in talent. The 2016- 2017 Wildcats are also in my opinion one of the greatest teams to ever grace a basketball court.
In 1969 Jerry Frye was the head coach and he would likely admit that he came to Dillon as a football coach and took the basketball program as required due to low school budgets.
Coming to the aide of the 1969 Wildcats for the playoffs was Gordon Cole and Latta’s legendary Eddie Rice that help prepare them for the playoffs.
In 2016-2017 the Wildcats were blessed with an outstanding coaching staff led by Head Coach Lee Page with top rated assistants, Splinter Spivey, Stacey Smith and Adrian Smith.
As in 1969, the 2017 team has several players that should play at the next level. Former superstar names Manning, Douglas, Leonard, Bethea, Hankins, Hardee and Rogers have been replaced by justly present day super stars, Norman, Boatwright, Brookins, Flecher, Jacobs and Porter. On the board for the Tigers, Jalen McKelvey had 19 points with a rebound, Tuzion Brock had 15 points with seven rebounds. In my opinion Brock was the heart of the Tiger team. RJ Campbell had 13 points with two rebounds, Jayden Shell had seven points with seven rebounds, Taymon Leamon and Jamal Burke had four points with two rebounds each and Jalen Calhoun had three points with five rebounds.
On the board for the Wildcats, Keenan Norman had 13 points with five rebounds, Darius Boatwright had 11 points with six rebounds, Javier Brookins had eight points with 14 rebounds, RaKeem Flecher had eight points with five rebounds, La’Jarius Jacobs had eight points, Raheem McCLam had four points with four rebounds, Ty’Quan Porter had three points with five rebounds, Corrian Wright had two points and Ze-Reon Hayes had four rebounds.
The Tigers finish the season with a 27-1 record with the Wildcats finishing 17-6. Three of the Wildcat losses come early when some of their players not ready due to the extended football season.
The 2016-2017 Wildcat Basketball Team was one of the greatest teams in Wildcat history with a great coaching staff and that is how they should be remembered.
The fans of Dillon County are proud of them and salute them for a great season.