SUMTER — The coach played basketball at the University of South Carolina and his star player will play hoops at Clemson. Yes, the Cardinal Newman basketball team has an interesting cast of characters.
It also has talent.
Standout guard Austin Ajukwa scored 27 of his game-high 34 points in the second half Friday night to lead Cardinal Newman to a 63-49 victory over Porter-Gaud in a SCISA boys Class AAA state semifinal at the Sumter Civic Center.
The future Tiger had a stretch where he scored 11 consecutive Cardinal Newman points, including the first seven of the fourth quarter to push a 31-30 lead to eight points.
The 6-6 senior’s slam dunk off a fastbreak with 2:41 remaining in the game was the exclamation point and gave the Cardinals a 10-point lead.
“It will be the first time I root for Clemson — when he’s up there,” said Cardinal Newman coach David Ross, who played for the Gamecocks in the early 2000s.
“He’s that special. It certainly helps when you have the best player in the state. We looked to get him to be the ball and be the playmaker.”
Cardinal Newman upped its record to 18-10 and will play Hammond School, which defeated Augusta Christian, 63-58 in Friday’s other semifinal, in today’s championship game. Tipoff is slated for 8 p.m.
Porter-Gaud, seeking its first state title since 2005, finished with a 22-4 record.
“We had a cold night,” Porter-Gaud coach John Pearson said.
“I felt we were prepared and ready to play. But we had stretches where we couldn’t get the shot to fall. The future is bright. We have some young players coming up and K.J. (James) and Michael (Preddy) will be back. We will be back.”
Ajukwa was the difference. He scored 16 points in the final period as Cardinal Newman outscored the top-ranked Cyclones 32-19 in the fourth quarter.
“He’s a very good player,” Pearson said. “When you have a senior who has a sense of urgency and talent, he’s pretty tough to stop.”
James led Porter-Gaud with 18 points, and Sterling Smalls added 10.
Cardinal Newman (63): Ragin 7, Brown 2, Ajukwa 34, Armstrong 5, August 4, Parker 3, Halfacre 2,
Porter-Gaud (49): Smalls 10, Skelly 9, Byrd 4, James 18, Preddy 8.
Cardinal Newman 4 9 18 32 —63
Porter-Gaud 6 8 16 19 —49
Records: Porter-Gaud 22-4, Cardinal Newman 18-10.