A mad scramble for a loose ball near mid-court resulted in two players each from Abbeville and Great Falls in a pile-up midway through the third quarter.
Great Falls forward Xavier Holmes muscled his way to grab hold of the loose ball and bounced a pass to a wide-open teammate, Shaquille Simpson, underneath for the open lay-up and a 43-30 lead.
That effort, said Holmes, was indicative of Great Falls' determination to reach the Class-A state championship. With that kind of effort, the Red Devils captured their third straight Class-A Upper State championship with a 62-52 victory over Abbeville Saturday at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville.
"We want to get back to the state championship game in the worse way," Holmes said. "That is why we made it a point to get every loose ball and play as hard as we did."
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Great Falls, 24-2, used solid defense and board play to gain separation from a scrappy Panthers squad, which finishes the season at 24-4.
Holmes had a monster game with 25 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists. He set the tone for the Red Devils with 11 first-quarter points, including six off the offensive glass. His board dominance continued in the second.
The 6-3 junior forward grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on three straight Red Devil possessions for a 28-16 lead with 4:00 remaining before the half.
Alstevis Squirewell, who also came up huge with 13 points and 12 rebounds, added two inside baskets. Shaquille Simpson took a pass from Holmes for another inside score, and Ernest Talford grabbed a miss and banked in a shot prior to the halftime buzzer, putting the Red Devils in control, 36-23.
Great Falls took its biggest lead at 15 on the first possession of the third quarter, but Abbeville responded with five straight points from their playmaking guard, Jericho Jackson, and pulled to within eight, 38-30.
The Devils went on a 7-0 run to push the lead back to 15, 45-30, with 2:53 remaining in the third, but the Panthers did not go away as Jackson completed a 3-point play, dished inside to Kendall Agnew for a score, and then capped off the 9-2 run with a lay-up.
Abbeville continued its rally early in the fourth and pulled to within six, 49-43, when Quay Watts scored inside with 6:18 remaining. Following a time-out, the Red Devils quickly regained their composure.
Simpson swished a jumper; Talford and Holmes added one free-throw each; Squirewell grabbed an offensive rebound for a hoop; and Shaquille Lamar tipped-in a miss for a 57-43 lead with 4:14 remaining.
The Panthers, however, remained resilient as Chris Butler swished a 3-point jumper, and Jackson added two more 3-point jumpers to cut the Great Falls lead to six, 58-52, with 1:31 remaining. The Red Devils then resorted to their delay offense, which resulted in two Simpson free-throws, and then, an alley-oop pass from Squirewell to Holmes for the exclamation dunk at the buzzer.
"Our inside game really went well for us in a game where our perimeter game was off," veteran Great Falls coach John Smith said. "And their player, Jackson stepped it up for them. He is a great player, and they are a solid man-to-man defensive team and that caused us some problems in the second half.
"But defensively, we have been doing a good job in the state playoffs. We limited Calhoun County to 47 last game and gave up 52 this game, which is the most we have given up thus far in the playoffs.
"That is the biggest difference from this year's team to last year's. We had a dominant scorer in Tori Craig, but this year, we have stepped it up and played better defense."
Great Falls will play the Burke-C.E. Murray survivor next Saturday at the Colonial Arena in Columbia for the Class-A state championship.
GREAT FALLS 62 ABBEVILLE 52
Great Falls -- Shaquille Lamar 5, Shaquille Simpson 13, Ernest Talford 4, Xavier Holmes 25, Alstevis Squirewell 13, Tyrail Smith 2. Abbeville -- Jericho Jackson 20, Chris Butler 10, Quay Watt 10, Kendall Agnew 8, AJ Enwright 4.
3-pointers -- Great Falls 2 (Lamar 1, Simpson 1), Abbeville 4 (Jackson 2, Butler 2). Team fouls -- Great Falls 8, Abbeville 14. Fouled out -- None Records: Great Falls 24-2; Abbeville 18-5.