GREENVILLE -- Northwestern coach Mike Gossett knew exactly why his Trojans were routed 68-46 by Gaffney on Friday in the Class AAAA Upper State championship game.
"We stunk on offense," Gossett said. "It was easy for them to play help-side defense because our guys stood around and watched the ball. Still, you have to give Gaffney credit, but we sure picked a bad night to play our worst game of the season.
"I haven't slept for two weeks. This loss will stick with me until the first time we put the ball up next season."
Yes it was bad, ending Northwestern's hopes of making it to next Friday's state championship game in Columbia. This game, played at Greenville's BI-LO Center, was the first time Northwestern (19-9) had advanced to the final eight since the school opened in 1971.
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For Gaffney (24-2), the win gave the Indians a shot at another state championship. Gaffney won three straight from 2003-2005 under coach Mark Huff, whose top players were A.Z. Reid and Sidney Rice.
"Our goal every year is to win the state championship," Huff said. "Our plan tonight was to push Northwestern out beyond the 3-point line and make them shoot. They made a few, but we didn't let them get too many second-chance points like they did the last time we played."
It was their third meeting this season, and except for a close 56-51 loss the last time, the Trojans were unable to put a dent in the Indians' armor.
The game began at a snail's pace and when Northwestern's Chris Belton hit a jumper from the foul line, the Trojans trailed 10-8 with just under two minutes left in the opening quarter. And it didn't help the Trojans' cause that they missed their first five shots before scratching on a Belton layup at 5:28.
After Belton cut the lead to a bucket, the game never got closer. Gaffney went on a six-point run to close the period ahead 16-8.
Gaffney turned out the lights in the second quarter as Northwestern's shooting woes continued. The Trojans scored only six points and made just two of 12 shots from the field.
The Indians didn't set the world on fire, hitting only four of 13 shots and scoring 11 points, but the pattern had been established -- take Belton, Cordarrelle Patterson and Labris Adams out of the inside game and try to force all Trojans shots from the perimeter.
"It was tough for us inside," Belton said. "Our guards had a hard time getting the ball to us down low, and when they did there were two defenders on us, one from the help side.
"It was obvious from the beginning what Gaffney wanted to do, but Gaffney was closing down everything Northwestern's guards tried. We did our best, played with heart."
Gaffney turned up its pressure defense in the second half. Leading 36-28 in the third quarter, Northwestern's Brandon Williams drilled a 3-pointer, then Gaffney put the game away for good. Led by guard Josh Corry, who scored 23 points, the Indians reeled off 11 straight points -- eight off steals -- and pushed their lead to 47-28. Corry had six points in the quarter and Jeffrey Brown five. Seven Indians scored and Gaffney put up 24 points in the period.
Trailing 51-30 with eight minutes left, Northwestern faced a mountain that we too tall to scale. The Trojans had a little flash to start the final quarter, Belton hit a field goal and nailed a 3-pointer. Patterson scored a layup and the Trojans began the period with a 7-4 outburst. But while Northwestern started like a firecracker, Gaffney finished like a cherry bomb on New Year's Eve.
The Indians outscored the Trojans 13-9 the rest of the way, then when the final buzzer sounded raced onto the court to celebrate.
"I wanted to win this one for our six seniors," Trojans sophomore guard Kevin Keene said, close to tears and his voice cracking. "It seemed like Gaffney's guards were all over the floor. We tried to get past them, but were unable to do it.
"It hurts bad. I have two more years and hope we get back, but this one was for our seniors, our school and our fans. This was a game I'll remember the rest of my life."
Gaffney will play at 8:30 p.m. next Friday in the Class AAAA state championship game against the winner of tonight's Goose Creek/Fort Dorchester game.
• NOTE: In Friday's opener, Spring Valley came from behind in the final minute and beat Dorman 60-57 in the girls Class AAAA Upper State championship game.
Northwestern 8 6 16 16 -- 46
Gaffney 16 11 24 17 -- 68