FORT MILL -- In one of those games where the final score was not indicative of how closely contested the game was, Fort Mill extended its winning streak to 11 by holding off pesky and previously unbeaten Charlotte Country Day (N.C.), 84-68 Tuesday.
The Buccaneers (7-1) came out firing, scoring early and often from behind the 3-point arc. Country Day also pushed the ball upcourt quickly after each made Fort Mill basket, resulting in several easy scores.
Once the Buccaneers cooled off, Fort Mill regained its composure and started knocking down deep 3-pointers of its own.
In a game that saw 18 combined 3-pointers, it was Fort Mill's depth that made the biggest difference as the Yellow Jackets (7-0) rallied from an eight-point, first-half deficit to win going away.
Trailing 32-25 with just over three minutes remaining in the second period, Garrett Copeland nailed two long range 3-pointers, giving the Yellow Jackets momentum that carried the defending Class AAAA state champions.
Copeland's two 3-pointers, combined with a charging foul on Buccaneers star Robert Culp and a well-called timeout by Fort Mill coach Bailey Jackson, spurred a 15-0 Jackets run to end the first half.
"I knew how well Country Day could shoot the ball," Jackson said. "It took a little while for our kids to get used to their pace and shooting ability, but we responded well after the timeout in the second quarter."
The Yellow Jackets took a nine-point lead into intermission, but the Buccaneers hung around waiting for a Fort Mill error to swing momentum back in their favor.
The mistakes never really came.
With Chalmers Rogers, Peyton Barker and Cam Smith along with Copeland, Fort Mill's first five are tough enough, but combined with dominating bench play, the Yellow Jackets look poised to defend their title.
Country Day's starters played as well or better than Fort Mill's starters, but as the Buccaneers got into foul trouble, the Yellow Jackets' bench dominated Country Day's subs.
With minimal playing experience entering the game, two Jackets came off of the bench to play their best games in the young season.
Michael Kozlowski finished with just six points and did not register a field goal, but his defensive pressure caused fits for the Bucs. Kozlowski finished 6-of-7 from the line, each coming in key moments in the game.
Despite playing minimal minutes, Aaron Cooper was a huge lift for Fort Mill each time he entered the court. Cooper finished with eight points, but like Kozlowski, wreaked havoc on defense.
Fort Mill looked to have the game locked away late in the third quarter before Country Day responded with nine consecutive points, including 3-pointers from Culp and Denton Faber.
Up just six points with less than six minutes remaining in the game, Rogers scored an easy lay-up off of a steal from Kozlowski. The bucket triggered an 11-2 run to put the game out of reach.
Copeland hit a deep 3-pointer for Fort Mill during the run that sent many Buccaneers fans headed for the exits early, knowing the game was out of reach.
In a move that is sure to be repeated throughout the season, Country Day packed their two-three defense to minimize Rogers' presence inside. The Jackets had too many weapons who could shoot well from the outside, making the defense nearly useless.
"We played extremely hard tonight, especially falling behind early," Jackson said. "Our kids dove after every loose ball and hustled as well as we have all season. We need to play this type of intensity every game, as we know that every region game will play out similar to this one."
Fort Mill 84
Country Day 68