CLEMSON -- At any given time during Chester's 67-53 loss to Greenville in Saturday's Class AAA Upper State championship game, there were 10 athletes on the floor.
They ran, played tight defense, followed shots, blocked shots and had a couple of dunks. When the ball was loose and in the air, two, three and sometimes four players were skywalking in hopes of gaining possession.
Greenville didn't out-athlete the Cyclones. The Red Raiders' athletes just had the better night.
"We knew they had good athletes, and our plan going in was to contain them, to contest every shot,'' said Greenville coach Dondi McGowan, whose team is headed to the state championship for the third straight year. "It was a matter of the ball falling our way tonight.''
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Greenville plays Lower State champion Myrtle Beach next Saturday night in Columbia at USC's Colonial Center. Myrtle Beach is led by former Chester coach De'Andre Scott.
Greenwood, 20-7, beat Dillon in the title game two years ago and lost to Wilson last season. The Red Raiders beat the odds to get back this season after having to replace four starters.
"Absolutely not,'' McGowan said after being asked if he thought this team would make it back. "This year's team is ahead of schedule. My biggest challenge was keeping morale up and getting the kids to come together. We seem to have accomplished that.''
One could point to several junctures in the game as to where it was won or lost. This one came down to the Red Raiders catching fire in the second quarter to break open a 22-20 game after the Cyclones pulled within two on a follow by Donald Sims.
That was Chester's best shot. Greenville ran off 13 straight points and pushed its lead to 35-20.
The Cyclones (17-10) made it respectable, scoring six straight points on a pair of Jamarcus McClinton baskets and one from Tyrell Pendergrass that trimmed Greenville's lead to 35-26. But Red Raiders guard Marcus Sloan fired in a buzzer-beater from the wing and Greenville took a 37-26 lead into the half.
The hottest player was Chester's McClinton, who led all scorers with 26 points. Greenville's Scott Dameron had 16 points and Mike Davis 15.
"There were a lot of good players on the court tonight,'' McClinton said. "It came down to them wanting it more, and it showed in the way we played.
"Their run in the second quarter was the difference. But hey, nobody expected us to be here. Losing hurts, but I look at it as an honor to play for the Upper State championship.''
Dameron was particularly hot in the third quarter, pumping in nine points and spurring his team to a 52-41 lead.
McClinton got off to a tremendous start with 10 of Chester's 18 first-quarter points. Cyclones center Donald Sims added 11 points and blocked seven shots.
Sims' success swatting the ball away was a result of Greenville's ability to take the ball inside. Of the 30 field goals made by the Red Raiders, 24 field goals were either in the paint or along the baseline.
Sims even blocked a couple of Dameron's shots, but he couldn't stop Greenville's assault on the lane.
"We started the season slow, but we knew we could keep winning when the playoffs started,'' Dameron said. "At the first of the year, nobody was talking about us ... thought we wouldn't be any good.
"But we worked hard to become a team. We're headed back to the state championship game.''