Darlington crawls it way back to beat Marlboro County, claims second in the region
By Drake Horton, Contributing Writer
Well- that was needed.
A simple sentence for such an important game, but sometimes simple just explains it a little better.
In a season where Darlington looked prime to run away with the region, things all of sudden looked like the Falcons were not even going to get to host a home playoff game.
After injuries, a poorly officiated game against Lakewood, and a shocking lost to Crestwood on the road, all arrows pointed to Darlington finishing third in the region after leading it for a majority of the season, especially with its final regular season game of the season against the newly crowned region champions, the Marlboro County Bulldogs.
But it is moments like this where people can really see where experience comes into play and in this case Darlington’s last four years of success showed itself against the Bulldogs this past Friday as the Falcons won 70-67, cementing themselves as second place finishers in the region and earning at a least one home playoff game.
“First of all, it’s just great to be back home at the Falcons Nest, I hope this can get us a home game in the playoffs,” Darlington boys head coach Ken Howle said after the game, not knowing at the moment if Darlington had finished second or third in the region. “Our guys kept battling and battling, playing from behind most of the game, but we stepped up at the end.”
And while there were no injuries in this game, the officials for the most did their job and the game was at home, it did not mean that it was easy for Darlington.
Marlboro County, who has the most talented team I have seen them have in the last five years at least came straight out at the Falcons with speed and precision. The Falcons, though, with a team full of playoff experience and the home faithful behind them knew exactly how to handle it.
Quarter by quarter Darlington chipped away at the Bulldogs lead and finally at the 4:16 mark in the third quarter a two-point shot by Tyriq Smith gave the Falcons their first lead of the game at 53-51.
From there it was game on and Darlington seized the moment capitalizing on two big missed free throws on the front end of a one and one for Marlboro County with Bulldogs leading 64-63.
It was after that last miss where the Falcons inbounded the basketball and Donavan Johnson, who has already hit a couple big time threes this season, hit one more giving Darlington a 66-64 lead with 1:01 left in the game.
After that shot, Marlboro County failed to do anything on its next possession and Darius Green, who has not been in the scoring column very much this season, broke away and made big layup with less than 30 seconds left, increasing the Falcons lead to 68-64.
The game was far from over, however, as the Bulldogs rushed down the court and drained a three-pointer with 15.4 seconds left cutting the lead to just one, breathing one last chance in a Marlboro County victory.
That breath did not last long, though. Even with fouls to give Darlington was able to inbound the ball successful two times before the Bulldogs finally were able to send a Falcon to the charity strip and that Falcon was Marquis Green, who hit both free throws with five seconds left in the game.
“My coach always tells me that big time players make big time plays so I had to show everybody that I was a big time player,” Green said after making the critical free throws that iced the game away.
Up 70-67 Darlington finished the game off with great defense, executing a perfect trap and forcing Marlboro County to throw an errant pass in the direction of Donavan, who intercepted it and ran the clock out.
Leading the Falcons in scoring was Frankie Johnson with 22, but he was not the only Darlington player in double digits in scoring. Green finished with 14, second on the team and Jalian Smith had 11.
It felt good,” Frankie said on winning and contributing the way he did. “Coach told us all week that this was going to be a big week for us so all of us came out and played hard. I just felt I needed to help my team a little more in scoring and passing wise and we came out on top.”
Darlington now gets ready to face Myrtle Beach at home on Tuesday for the first round of the 3A playoffs and this team is primed for a deep run with the large amount of experience that sits on the roster.
“If everybody does their role, I think we are going to be a tough out,” Howle said, echoing what many believe to be true of the Falcons chances during the playoffs.
Darlington is 20-5 overall, 7-3 in the region.