Nation Ford won the Region IV-5A boys’ basketball title by beating rival Fort Mill 63-51 to finish its region schedule a perfect 8-0 and giving the Falcons their second region title in school history.
Zeb Graham led Nation Ford (16-6, 8-0 Region IV) with 23 points, 14 of them coming in the third quarter, to help the Falcons pull away from Fort Mill. Fort Mill (14-8, 6-2 Region IV) was led in scoring by Josh Amigo and Ryan Heriot, who both scored 15 points. Khydarius Smith added 19 points for Nation Ford.
“Zeb and Khy were great in the second half,” said Nation Ford head coach Jared Adamson.
The Jackets finished second in the region as both teams will open the playoffs next week with home games. Both schools hosts opening round playoff games on Valentine’s Day – Nation Ford against Hillcrest and Fort Mill versus Greenwood.
Fort Mill made a game of it in the fourth quarter after trailing by more than 20 as the Jackets hit four 3-pointers in the final two minutes to get within 10 points at 59-49, but the Falcons held strong to end the game.
“We came out in the third and missed shots we needed to make,” said Fort Mill head coach Dwayne Hartsoe. “They are good. They are as talented of a team as I have seen. They are tough to beat.”
Nation Ford outscored Fort Mill 21-7 in the third quarter to take a 40-25 lead after three periods. Graham came out and scored the first five points for Nation Ford to extend its halftime lead to 24-20 to open the third quarter. Both teams struggled scoring in the early going of the second half except for Graham and Heriot for Fort Mill.
Nation Ford’s Ben Tuipulotu hit a 3-pointer to give the Falcons their biggest lead of the game with about four minutes left in the third quarter. Nation Ford would push that lead to 10 points as Graham drained another 3-pointer for the Falcons to go up 32-22 at that point.
“In the third quarter, we got stops and hit some shots,” Adamson said. “John (Heath) did a good job defensively for us.”
Amigo opened the second quarter for Fort Mill with his second 3-pointer of the game to put the Jackets back on top 11-9. Nation Ford’s Malik Bryant would come back to tie the game with a jumper on the Falcons’ next possession. Fort Mill started to turn the ball over on three straight possessions as the Falcons would take advantage of those miscues scoring each time to go up 17-13.
Fort Mill battled back to tie the game at 17-17 with about 90 seconds left in the half. The Jackets were able to keep Nation Ford to a slower pace as the Falcons are used to a more run-and-gun style of play by getting up the court quickly.
Nation Ford opened the game with two straight turnovers as Fort Mill tried to slow the game down and look for the best shot. Amigo opened the game with a 3-pointer for Fort Mill, while the Falcons’ first basket consisted of a thunderous dunk by Smith. That dunk was answered by a 3-pointer from the Jackets’ Carson Morton.
The Jackets kept a slight edge by driving hard to the basket as the Falcons struggled from the floor early on. However, Nation Ford would put together a small 5-0 run to get the lead before the end of the opening period.
Mac Banks: email@example.com, @MacBanksFM