Only five points separated Gaffney and Northwestern in the Indians' 56-51 victory Friday.
But in analyzing the five-point difference, Trojans coach Mike Gossett pointed to two areas that gave the Indians the upper hand in the regular-season finale for both teams.
"We have gotten better the last two weeks, and I am proud of the way we played tonight," Gossett said. "However, we have to do a better job at the foul line and making layups.
"To me, that was the major difference."
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Gossett only pointed to the statistic which showed Gaffney sinking 18 of 31 free throws, while Northwestern sank only 4 of 10 attempts.
"That is a 12-point difference and we only lost by five," Gossett added. "And we certainly missed our share of layups. And one thing that we have to learn is to get loose balls that Gaffney beat us to tonight."
Northwestern, the second-place team in Region 3-AAAA, was well within striking distance against Gaffney, the league champion ranked among the top five in the Class-AAAA poll.
Following a layup from Cordarrelle Patterson, Labris Adams sank two from the foul line to bring the Trojans within 40-37 with 5:56 remaining.
Gaffney forward Jeff Brown scored on the inside, but Patterson was fouled while converting a putback on the offensive boards. He added a free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play to cut the Trojans deficit to 42-40.
Indians guard Josh Corry, who paced all scorers with 22 points, drained a 3-pointer from the corner for a five-point Gaffney lead with 3:59 remaining. Northwestern still had two chances to pull closer, but missed two layups on consecutive possessions.
Gaffney sank 3 of 4 from the free-throw line for a 48-40 lead with 3:01 remaining.
Trailing 52-43 with 1:37 left, Northwestern attempted one last comeback. Drayton Wade scored a layup and Patterson got an assist from Belton for a layup. Following an Indians miss, Belton grabbed his own offensive rebound and scored, narrowing the deficit to 52-49 with 52 seconds remaining.
Corry sank two foul shots for a two-point Gaffney lead, but Northwestern turned the ball over on its next possession with 32.8 seconds left. Following two Indians misses at the line, Patterson collected the rebound and scored, pulling the Trojans within three, 54-51, with 12.5 seconds left.
However, the Indians remained poised at the foul line, converting 3 of 4 within the final 12.5 seconds to secure an undefeated record in Region 3-AAAA.
"We knew this would be a tough game and knew the region championship could come down to this game," Gaffney coach Mark Huff said. "Northwestern and Gaffney is a good rivalry game. Both teams played well and this was playoff intensity."
Northwestern, the second seed with a 7-3 record, finishes the regular season at 16-8 and will host a first-round Class-AAAA home playoff game on Wednesday night.