Darlington comes up short in championship against West Florence
By Drake Horton, Contributing Writer
Darlington’s quest to win two basketball tournaments during the school’s Christmas break came up just short as the Falcons lost to the West Florence Knights in the championship game of the Pepsi-Carolina Classic by a score of 87-76 at West Florence High School on December 30.
Beating the Knights twice already, Darlington looked to get a rare three-game sweep against West Florence and the Falcons looked poised to do just that by the time the third quarter came to an end.
“That was the theme of the day,” Darlington boys head coach Ken Howle said after the game. “I think that everybody that had won twice came up short the third time.”
Darlington led the majority of the game; 18-13 at the end of the first, 39-33 at half and 59-55 at the end of the third quarter.
The key to winning, however, is being able to close a game out in the final period and the Falcons were unable to do that against West Florence in the fourth quarter. Instead of being able to ice the game away, Darlington was outscored 30-17 in the fourth quarter leading to the Knights 11 point victory.
What was the main difference? Turnovers and defense; in the first three quarters Darlington played extremely good defense forcing West Florence into multiple turnovers in which the Falcons capitalized into points.
In the fourth quarter, however, it was Darlington that seemed unable to hold on to the basketball and on each turnover; it was as if West Florence was just waiting to convert it into points.
“We went through a spurt; we were up 61-57 and we had turnover, turnover, turnover and they took a lead and they never relinquished that,” Howle said on the collapse in the fourth quarter. “Turnovers hurt us down the stretch.”
The game literally seemed like a role reversal from the last time the two teams met back on December 19 at Darlington when the Falcons used a strong fourth quarter to come from behind and win 75-67.
Beating a team three times in one season is very hard to do, however, and with a crowd full of Knights supporters West Florence was able to win its first ever Pepsi-Carolina Classic over the Falcons.
“West (Florence) has a very talented team and they are playing better too,” Howle said on the improvement of the Knights.
Frankie Johnson led the Falcons in scoring with 26 points with Donavan Johnson adding 13 and Johnson believes that both tournaments have really helped Darlington grow as a team.
“We improved a lot,” Johnson said on how Darlington grew as a team over the break. “We feel more confident about ourselves. We played more as team instead of as individuals I think we needed this break to help us bond.”
Jalen Cameron of West Florence led all scorers with 30 points.
Darlington’s overall record is 10-3.
Pepsi-Carolina Classic Recap
Before getting to the championship game against West Florence, Darlington defeated two of its biggest rivals in the Hartsville Red Foxes and the Wilson Tigers.
The Falcons started the tournament off with an 82-62 victory over is region and county rival, Hartsville setting up a matchup against Wilson in the semi-finals.
Having already lost to Wilson twice, Darlington got its revenge beating the Tigers 64-54.
Carolina Forest Panther Classic Recap
Darlington went a perfect 3-0 down at beach defeating Carver Bay 94-66 on December 20, West Mecklenburg 72-59 on December 21 and Durham Academy 65-57 on December 22.