In a wild second round 5A basketball playoff game in which six technical fouls were handed out between the two teams, the Nation Ford Falcons held off the Gaffney Indians 69-59 Saturday to advance to the third round.
Nation Ford hosts Wade Hampton in the third round Tuesday at 7 p.m. with the winner getting a date in Greenville in the Upper State Championship game Feb. 24.
Nation Ford (17-6) was led by their big men in Shaman Alston, who had 18 points, and Khydarius Smith, who had 17. The game saw a total of 70 free throws between the teams and four Gaffney players fouled out. The teams combined for 43 fouls.
“Defensively, we were good in the first half,” said Falcons’ head coach Jared Adamson. “It was a different struggle in the second half.”
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Nation Ford often controlled the game, but had trouble putting away a defiant Indians team. Leading 44-35 entering the fourth quarter, Nation Ford tried to put Gaffney down, but the game turned especially physical and the teams went to the foul line 44 times in the final quarter alone. Gaffney’s Brandley Childers, who led the Indians in scoring with 21 points, shot 17 free throws in the fourth, hitting 11 of them.
The teams were nearly identical at the foul line; Nation Ford was 25-for-35 from the stripe, while Gaffney was 22-of-35.
The Falcons were at the line just as often in the fourth quarter, hitting 17-of-25 attempts, with Zeb Graham, who scored 11 points in the game, hitting 7 of 12 at the charity stripe. Graham set a new Nation Ford record in the game for most career points in school history, eclipsing Riley Hilton, who ended his career with 1,010. Graham now has 1,012 points for his career with his entire senior year ahead of him next season.
Nation Ford started the game going inside to Smith, who scored eight of his 17 points in the first quarter. The Falcons and Gaffney went back-and-forth trading baskets before Nation Ford took a small 17-12 lead after the first quarter. The second quarter allowed the Falcons to show depth in their starting lineup as Alston was able to take the game over, scoring 10 of his 18 points. The Falcons’ defense was just as strong as they held Gaffney to just one field goal made and took a 32-22 lead into the half.
The two teams slowed things down considerably in the third quarter as Gaffney started hitting 3-pointers to put a scare into Nation Ford. In the fourth quarter, things started to get intense between the two teams and the referees started to hand out technical fouls, including ejecting one of the Gaffney assistant coaches with about 67 seconds left in a close, five-point game. Gaffney pulled within five points at 60-55 as the Falcons struggled in the fourth quarter with turnovers, coughing it up five times, which often led to the Indians going to the basket drawing a foul.
As cooler heads prevailed, Graham, Alston and Malik Bryant were able to keep Nation Ford in front during the final period, which saw the teams combine for 49 points, most of which came on free throws.
Mac Banks: firstname.lastname@example.org, @MacBanksFM