The Clover Blue Eagles have probably been the smaller team on the court in every game this season. Friday was no different at South Pointe. But Clover has the Stallions' number.
Clover (19-5) moved on to the second round of the Upper State playoffs with a 58-51 win marking the third time the Blue Eagles beat South Pointe this season.
Clover will benefit from an upset in Spartanburg where Easley toppled No. 1 seeded Dorman, 66-63. Clover was expecting to travel to Dorman for the second round. Instead they will get a home game against No. 4 seed Easley.
The Blue Eagles have won games all year with gritty defense and timely perimeter shooting. That was the case at South Pointe. The Blue Eagles knocked down nine 3-pointers. Coach Dudley Lybrand said he thought they needed seven or eight to get the win.
Clover's Alexander Wiley made six 3-pointers on his way to a career-best night. The senior guard scored 28 points, 14 coming in the final quarter.
"We have to come out and play harder than the other team every night," Wiley said explaining how his team handles taller opponents.
Wiley missed most of his junior season after a car accident left him with three fractured disks in his neck.
"I'm happy for him. He needed a breakout game like that," Lybrand said.
South Pointe coach Dwayne Hartsoe gave Wiley credit for coming back from his injury the way he has.
"We've been playing against him for four years. Last year he missed the whole year. I admire him a lot. There aren't many kids that would be able to do that."
Wiley scored on a layup to start the fourth quarter then knocked down a 3 from the wing. He pulled up and he a short jumper the next time down the floor, then drained another 3 in the corner. He scored Clover's first 11 points in the fourth.
"They are a tough match-up for us," South Pointe coach Dwayne Hartsoe said. "They have good guards and that's not our strong point. We play a freshman and a sophomore at the point."
South Pointe's Tre Erby kept the game close. He scored eight of his team-high 21 points in the final frame.
Charles Holmes received a pass in the lane and stuffed the basketball with 4:39 to go. Erby followed with a driving layup. Diami Gilmore made the first of two free throws and it was a 48-45 Clover lead with 3:18 left.
South Pointe's next two possessions were a missed 3 by Cory Kessler and a turnover. Clover calmly made 10 of 14 from the free throw line to close out the game.
"When you are a No. 3 seed it will be tough all the way through," Lybrand said. He talked only of the possibility of a second-round game at Dorman. The home playoff game should come as a welcome surprise.
"Our guards made some big plays and our seniors came through for us," Lybrand said. "It was a very physical game. I was proud the way we held our composure."
Nearing halftime, Clover's Josh Clawson and South Pointe's Charles Holmes battled for a rebound. Clawson got an inadvertent elbow or a forearm to the between his right eye and temple. He lay on the floor for a moment before walking over to the bench. Blood streamed down his cheek as he put a towel to the gash.
He returned in the second half and hit a big 3-pointer to beat the buzzer to end the third quarter. He finished with 10 points and was headed to get stitches after the game.
In the fourth quarter South Pointe's Erby took a shot to the eye and came out. Later, Wiley drove the lane and had his shot blocked. He and a defender crashed to the floor. Wiley rose with a busted lower lip. The game was halted to clean blood off the floor.
Hartsoe wouldn't get into the what-if's. Like what if Stephon Gilmore hadn't graduated early to enroll at South Carolina?
Maybe the season could have ended differently. But he has nothing to be down about.
South Pointe finished the season with a 13-7 record. Hartsoe was named Region 4-AAAA coach of the year. Erby and Kessler, both juniors, made the all-Region team.