IRMO — Tuesday night’s third-round game at Irmo High School was a homecoming of sorts.
Former South Carolina Gamecock Melvin Watson returned to the Columbia area and brought his once-beaten South Pointe Stallions to face his old teammate BJ McKie’s son Justin and the undefeated, No. 1-ranked Irmo Yellow Jackets.
But this was not your traditional homecoming opponent. The Region AAA champion Stallions fought blow-for-blow with the home team and even appeared to have them on the ropes in the fourth quarter.
In the end, an unlikely hero saved the day for the Yellow Jackets, and they survived and advanced to the Upper State final with a 62-59 win. The Irmo students stormed the court after the Yellow Jackets’ toughest test to date.
South Pointe’s season ends with a 22-2 record, their only other loss coming at Rock Hill. Afterwards, there were lots of hugs for familiar faces, but that did not stop the tears from Watson for his team.
“I can’t even put it in words,” Watson said. “The way they carried themselves and played hard for me, it’s tough to swallow.”
South Pointe stormed back from a nine-point halftime deficit with a 7-0 run and 12 third-quarter points from junior guard Tyreece Brice to take a 49-47 lead into the fourth. Brice had a game-high 18.
The Stallions did an outstanding job on the state’s top player, holding McKie to 11 points, but senior guard Alex Quillen scored nine straight points by himself in the final period for Irmo.
Quillen tied it twice, at 51 and 53, for the Yellow Jackets, and put them up 55-53 with another jumper with 3:12 left. After a huge three from junior guard Tay Blake put the Stallions up 56-55 with 2:10 left, Irmo Coach Tim Whipple, whose name is on the court, called timeout to design a play for Quillen. The Jackets ran Quillen off a double screen, and he buried a three-pointer from the right corner to put Irmo back on top 58-56.
“They are really balanced,” Watson said. “When you take away one piece, you have somebody else that steps up.”
On the ensuing Stallions’ possession, junior forward Isaiah Rodney lost the ball out of bounds. Irmo called timeout and held the ball until McKie drove and scored on a floater for a 60-56 lead with 29 seconds left. Those were McKie’s only points of the period. Senior guard Justin Hart nailed a long three with 10 seconds left to cut the lead to one. The Stallions fouled. McKie missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Irmo got the rebound and made two free throws with six ticks left. Blake, who had 11 points, got off a decent look at a three from the left corner, but he had to double-clutch, and it banged off the front rim as the clock went to triple zeroes. There were three ties and three lead-changes in the last eight minutes.
In Watson’s second season, the Stallions won their region, lost two games and almost beat the top-ranked team on the road. They had four juniors in the starting lineup Tuesday. He assessed his program’s progress.
“We can come back and be really good or we can be average. But our program is in great shape.”
Irmo 62, South Pointe 59
South Pointe - Tyreece Brice 18, Tay Blake 11, PJ Heath 8, Anthony Johnson 8, Justin Hart 6, Isaiah Rodney 4, Tony Frazier 3, Dylan Bruton 1.
Irmo - Detrek Browning 16, Javis Howard 14, Justin McKie 11, Alex Quillen 9, Jevante Gross 6, Ryan Favor 4, Amir Ealey 2.
3-pointers - South Pointe 7 (Blake 3, Brice 3, Frazier) Irmo - 4 (Browning 2, McKie, Quillen)
Team fouls - South Pointe 20, Irmo 18.
Fouled out - Johnson, Devin Pearson (SP); Gross (Irmo)
Records: South Pointe 22-2, Irmo 27-0.