Jackets dethroned

Fort Mill's Cam Smith looks to shoot as he is guarded by Spartanburg's Omar Sanders.
Fort Mill's Cam Smith looks to shoot as he is guarded by Spartanburg's Omar Sanders.

FORT MILL -- It was one and done for Fort Mill, the No. 1 Yellow Jackets losing 74-64 to Spartanburg on Wednesday in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs.

Was it a shocker? Not really.

Was it an upset? Depends on how it's viewed.

Spartanburg (19-6) was ranked No. 1 in the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association's preseason poll. Fort Mill was No. 2, even though the Yellow Jackets were the defending state champions and had one of the state's top five players, 6-foot-7 center Chalmers Rogers.

Spartanburg made the playoffs on the last night of the regular season and got Region 2-AAAA's final seed. Wednesday, the Vikings played up to their preseason ranking.

Credit the 2-3 zone defense ordered up by Spartanburg coach Doug Lowe. It completely bumfuzzled Fort Mill's outside shooters, who hit just 4-of-13 shots in the opening quarter and fell behind 19-10.

"We pushed them outside and made them shoot jumpers," Lowe said. "Fort Milll has a great team and we decided we had to do that to beat them. But I'll have to be honest. That was the best game we've played all season."

Lowe said he was comfortable until late in the game. Fort Mill won its first 23 games before losing to Region 3-AAAA rival South Pointe last week in the final game of the regular season.

It was wise of Lowe not to get comfortable -- he never looks like he is anyway. Fort Mill put on a huge drive in the third quarter and near the end, the Yellow Jackets trailed just 46-40 after a 3-pointer by Garrett Copeland.

But the period ended on a buzzer-beater by Zycorrian Robinson and the Vikings were up 48-40 with one quarter, just eight minutes, to play.

The game was that close. Spartanburg's biggest lead was 20 points, 45-25, on Robinson's layup early in the third quarter.

But Fort Mill had been there, done that and wasn't a team prone to folding. Led by Rogers, the Yellow Jackets staged a 15-2 lead and cut the gap to six points on Copeland's 3-pointer. Rogers scored 12 points during the run and had 14 in the quarter.

He ended up with a game-high 27 points, but Fort Mill could never catch up.

The last time the Yellow Jackets lost two straight was during the 2005-06 season, when Fort Mill dropped a pair at a Christmas tournament in Kentucky.

"We didn't shoot the ball well early but did better in the second half," Fort Mill coach Bailey Jackson said. "I told the guys at halftime that they had to go back out and play hard or their Fort Mill careers would be over.

"We played better, played hard. But give Spartanburg credit. They showed they deserved to be No. 1 in the preseason and they'll play at least a few more games this year."

Word got out that the key to beating Spartanburg was to get 6-6 all-state center Omar Sanders rattled. Fort Mill students in their corner seats in the gym held up cards during warm-ups that said, "Omar Who."

Nine male students on the front row came shirtless with letters painted on their torsos -- one on each end with a question mark and the seven between them spelling out "Omar Who," even yelling it at him as he did layup drills.

It didn't take long for them to be introduced to Omar.

Sanders was a human highlight film. He scored 10 first-quarter points, including a pair of 3-pointers. He was at his best during a 16-3 run in the second quarter that staked the Vikings to a 37-20 halftime lead.

"Their fans were trying to get in my head," Sanders said. "Coach Lowe told me they had good fans and that they would probably get on me good.

"They did it because early in the season I had an attitude and would respond to things like that. Coach Lowe calmed me down and I'm handling it well. I don't want my attitude keeping us from getting to the state championship."

Sanders had only four points during the run, but he pounded the boards and blocked a couple of Fort Mill shots that got the Vikings' transition game going. He led Spartanburg with 23 points.

And speaking of highlight film material, Rogers put on a show in the same period in Fort Mill's late run. He scored 14 points, grabbed three rebounds, blocked two shots and drew a charge.

"It's tough that it ended like this," Jackson said. "To go 23-0 and then lose our last two ... I guess we ran out of steam."

Down eight heading in the final quarter was too much for Fort Mill. Spartanburg scored the first six points, pushing its lead to 54-40 on a 3-pointer from Raquentin Miller.

"We were able to build a small lead and hold on to it," Lowe said. "I'm very proud of Omar and how he played and handled himself. And (Robinson), I want the ball in his hands down the stretch."

Robinson scored 16 points and was 9-of-10 from the foul stripe in the final quarter. Spartanburg plays at Greenwood in the second round on Saturday.

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