Bad first quarter foils Darlington’s attempt at lower-state championship
By Drake Horton, Contributing Writer
The Darlington Falcons quest at a second straight state title appearance came to end this past Saturday in the Florence Civic Center, losing to the Midland Valley Mustangs by a score of 67-61 in the 3A lower-state championship.
In a game that Darlington never led in, it was an abysmal first quarter that the Falcons were just never quite able to overcome.
Behind 20-8 at the end of the first quarter the Falcons outscored the Mustangs the rest of the way 53-47, including 23-18 in the fourth quarter, but that first quarter deficit was just too much.
“We definitely lost it in the first quarter,” Darlington boys head coach Ken Howle said after the game. “I think we were trying to win it in the first quarter and we lost it in the first quarter. We were tight and just didn’t seem relaxed. That is a very good club (Midland Valley), very quick, good size.”
Apart from the bad first quarter, Darlington was just not quite on its “A” game against Midland Valley, missing usually routine lay-ups, losing the rebound battle and struggling mightily from behind the arc.
Coming off the second half against St. James in the previous game where the Falcons only made one three-pointer, Darlington’s cold shooting from downtown continued against the Mustangs.
In a season where Darlington has made more and shot more three’s than any other team in the program’s history, the proverbial “law of averages” saying seemed to come into effect as the Falcons appeared unable to do what made them so successful this season; hit the three.
Darlington went on a dreadful 3-21 from three-point land for a lowly 14%. In their last six quarters of play the Falcons, who some may have considered one of the best three-point shooting teams in the state hit only a grand total of four three-pointers.
The Falcons first three-pointer against Midland Valley did not come till the 2:57 when Donavan Johnson, a forward who occasionally shoots the deep ball, connected. Darlington’s four main three-point threats in Frankie Johnson, Tyriq Smith, Marquis Green and J.J. Jackson were a combined 2-19.
Still, despite all of that, Darlington almost found a way to win.
With nothing going right and getting behind the “eight ball” so quickly with that awful first quarter Darlington showed everybody why this was its third straight trip to the lower-state championship. It did not fold.
“I have to commend my guys; they fought back,” Howle said, reacting on how his team scratched and clawed its way back into the game.
Instead of quitting, like some other teams may have done, Darlington embraced the challenge and battled for three more quarters, even cutting the Mustangs lead to just two multiple times in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons played its best basketball from the 1:38 mark in the third quarter to the 5:04 mark in the fourth quarter. During that time span Darlington went on a 15-0 run and cut the Mustangs lead from 49-32 to 49-47.
In the end though, it was just not enough. While Darlington could not make the long distance shot, get that “50/50” ball, or make that contested, but makeable lay-up, Midland Valley did and in the end that was the difference.
“We had some good looks,” Howle said, speaking on his team’s uncharacteristic poor shooting night. “We just didn’t knock them down.”
Not making those plays is not a reflection of this team’s season, but instead it just brings into light how difficult it is to get to this point once, let alone three straight times like Darlington did.
“We had a great year,” Howle said, referring to all that Darlington accomplished this season. “This loss will not define our season and I am real proud of how they hung in there and fought to the end and made a game out of it.”
Darlington, as it has in so many other games this season, ended the night with four players in double digits scoring. Frankie Johnson and Smith led the way with points, Louis Richardson had 12 points and Green finished with 10 points.