Xavier Holmes didn't miss just a few shots. He didn't miss just half of his shots.
Every Holmes attempt from the field missed the mark for Great Falls in last year's Class A state championship basketball game, a version of his personal "Nightmare on Lincoln Street'' at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia.
Holmes missed jumpers, layups and put-backs. The Red Devils' second-leading scorer behind all-state forward Torrey Craig, Holmes hit one free throw.
"It was hard on me,'' said Holmes, a 6-5 junior. "I felt like I let my team down. After the game, coach (John) Smith told me to shake it off, that he knew I was hurting but had to put it behind me if I wanted to get back to the state.''
Never miss a local story.
It was as close to a crushing loss as a game could be. Great Falls was favored but fell to Hemingway, 66-58. If Holmes had scored his average, 10 points, the outcome could have been reversed.
Holmes is not living in the past. He is confident, saying last year was a matter of getting good looks but his shots not falling. Four starters from last year's team graduated, and Holmes said on Monday he couldn't let down his team this season because he is the lone starter back.
The Red Devils play in their third straight championship game on Saturday, facing Burke at 1:30 p.m. on the same court as last year's game.
Don't expect a sequel of last year's nightmare, at least not from Holmes. On a team void of stars and with four players scoring in double figures, Holmes has become his team's go-to man.
"My game is better this year because we have four players other teams know can score, so they can't guard just one,'' Holmes said. "Last year every team we played was set up to stop Torrey, but none did.
"He drew so many defenders that it opened up shots for the rest of us. Any of our starters can lead us in scoring this season. We work together well and it's more of a team-ball thing.''
Holmes's 17 points per game led the team during the regular season. He has averaged 22 points in four playoff games. He's looking forward to Saturday's title match.
And not just him. The teammates that accompanied Smith and Holmes to the state championship press conference on Monday feel the same way. After the players from Great Falls and Burke met with the media, the Red Devils stood outside the S.C. High School League office and reflected on their 24-2 season.
Forward Stevo Squirewell laughed and pointed out that he had a double-double in the Red Devils' Upper State championship victory over Abbeville last Saturday.
"Thirteen points and 13 rebounds," said Squirewell, who will sign a football scholarship with Newberry next week. "But none of us could have games like that if all of us didn't do our parts.
"This is our year to shine. It seems like everything has been working. I even got a dunk this year, my first-ever in a game."
Could it be their year? Great Falls has sent more talented teams to the championship games only to lose. What this team has over the others is defense: the Red Devils give up an average of 45 points per game.
Holmes said the Red Devils love to harass opponents more than they like to score. He pointed out the Great Falls has 308 steals and 144 blocked shots. That averages to 11.8 steals and 5.5 blocks a game.
"Team ball,'' guard Shaq Simpson said. "You have to play team ball to win and we do it well. You get that many steals and that many blocked shots a game ... turn half into points and it comes out to around 16 points your way.''
Holmes believes team ball will prevail on Saturday. Redemption? It's not in his vocabulary.
"I missed the championship game my freshman year because I was sick; some kind of virus,'' he said. "And last year; well, we've said enough about that.
"All I care about is winning, doing it for our school, our fans and our community. And if they (Burke defenders) sag on me inside when I get the ball, I can pass it outside and I'm confident one of my teammates will knock down the shot.''