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Irmo handles Northwestern Trojans in 4A playoffs

Javis Howard knew that Irmo -- ahead of Northwestern by 24 points -- didn't need his soaring, one-handed dunk in the waning moments of Tuesday night's first round playoff game.

But it was pretty.

"I tried to throw it down as hard as I could," Howard said. "I wanted to boost my team for the next game. I wanted to get them hyped and ready."

Howard's throwdown was the culmination of a 63-37 Irmo win that propelled the defending state champions into the second round of the 4A playoffs and served as deja vu for Northwestern, which concluded its season on Irmo's court just as it did a year ago.

Yet Irmo coach Tim Whipple characterized his team's play as ugly and credited Northwestern for playing a scrappy, aggressive man-to-man defense that disrupted his team's rhythm for much of the first half.

"Nothing was easy out there tonight. They made everything hard, " Whipple said.

"But we've survived this whole year by our defense helping our offense."

The first 12 minutes were breakneck, sloppy and physical. The erratic game bounded from end to end, as Irmo and Northwestern missed uncontested shots and ran few set plays. There were several loose ball tussles and even more turnovers. Both coaches excoriated their players for poor shot selections.

Irmo soon settled in and pulled away. Buoyed by acrobatic layups from star point guard Jordan Roper, Whipple's team went on a 14-4 run and ended the half with a 28-16 lead. The Yellow Jackets continued the onslaught in the second half, combining a tenacious full-court press with several breakaway layups to lead by at least 20 for the game's final 10 minutes.

Howard's dunk culminated several consecutive powerful plays from the 6-foot-7 sophomore. He scored six consecutive points for the Yellow Jackets in the fourth quarter, and all 12 of his points came in the second half.

"Our guys really understand what's going on and know when they're not playing well," Whipple said. "I didn't have to say a whole lot to them."

A young Northwestern squad didn't help its chances. The Trojans went on several lengthy streaks without a basket, missing uncontested jumpers and easy put-backs. Their passes were often intercepted in the second half, and the turnovers piled on as the deficit worsened.

"If you don't put the ball in the hole against them, the game just gets further and further away," Gossett said. "You have some brain slippage and some game slippage. They're very, very good."

But Gossett said his young team will use the loss as a learning experience and hope they don't face the Yellow Jackets for a third consecutive year.

Irmo will play at home Saturday night.