The Lancaster Bruins used the steady play and leadership of junior guard Malia Rivers to defeat the Lower Richland Diamond Hornets 52-39 in the second round of the 3A girls basketball playoffs Friday night.
Rivers finished the night with a game-high 21 points. Alexis Williams joined her in double figures with 10.
The victory secured for the the unbeaten Bruins (24-0) a third round game at home on Monday against Southside, which beat Wren 60-54 Friday.
It did not take Lancaster coach Ronnie Robinson long to sum up what the second round win meant.
“Any time you can beat a program that is the caliber of Lower Richland, you have done something,” said Robinson. “This was an awesome team win for us tonight.”
Rivers led the charge in the early going. She got six of her 15 first-half points in the first four minutes as Bruins took an 8-4 lead. When she nailed a 3-point goal with 2:13 remaining in the first quarter, the Bruins had a 13-4 cushion.
Lancaster led 15-7 after one period. The Bruins used a 9-0 run to open the second quarter. When Rivers scored on a layup off the break, the Bruins were in front 24-8 with 2:14 to play until halftime.
Lower Richland (14-8) regrouped and scored the final eight points of the half to cut it to 24-16.
Ayanna Bolton and Keondra Archie each had four points in the Diamond Hornets’ rally.
When Williams scored on a layup with 4:40 remaining in the third quarter, the Bruins had built the lead back to 13 at 33-20. Williams hit a pair of free throws with five seconds remaining in the third period to give the Bruins a 40-26 advantage heading to the final stanza.
When Cailah Hicklin, who led the Diamond Hornets with 16 points, scored on a four-foot shot in the lane, the Bruins’ lead was cut to 42-30 with 5:38 to play.
On the next trip down the floor, Lancaster got into the double bonus after a Lower Richland foul, and Robinson called time out.
“I just wanted to settle them down,” said Robinson. “I wanted to encourage them to keep playing hard and be patient on offense.”
The Bruins used a control game the rest of the way. Their crisp passing and motion offense used up valuable time on the clock, forcing Lower Richland to foul.
The Bruins, who had already missed 13 free throws, were good on six of eight down the stretch.
“We made them when we had to,” said Robinson. “The pressure was on us then, and we responded.”
Three different Bruins converted charity tosses down the stretch. Rivers was sent to the line after Lower Richland had cut it to 48-39 on a basket by Ashley Irving with 50 seconds remaining in the game. In a span of 14 seconds she made all four of her free throws to put the game on ice.
One of the big keys to the win against the Diamond Hornets was the defensive effort that the Bruins displayed.
“Everybody we had on the floor turned in a solid effort on defense,” said Robinson. “We did a good job of getting a hand in their face on shots as well as cutting off the inside passing lanes.”
The Bruins also handled Lower Richland’s full-court press, which was employed during the final 11 minutes of the game.
“We prepared for the press,” said Robinson. “It frustrated us on the first couple of times, but we really did a good job of breaking their press.”
Lancaster 52, Lower Richland 39
Lower Richland - Williford 3, Bolton 4, Irving 6, Nuttry 2, Roach 4, Cailah Hicklin 16, Archie 4.
Lancaster - Malia Rivers 21, Robinson 6, Howze 3, Woods 5, Alexis Williams 10, Thorne 4, Garris 3.
3-point goals: Lower Richland 1 (Williford 1), Lancaster 3 (Rivers 1, Robinson 1, Howze 1).
Team Fouls - Lower Richland 23, Lancaster 9. Fouled out - Roach (LR).
Records: Lancaster 24-0, Lower Richland 14-8.