SAPAKOFF COLUMN: Goose Creek's near-perfect state basketball championship formula
Dantez Bennamon is one of the best high school basketball players in South Carolina, but he hadn't gone 19 for 19 from the free-throw line until last week.
Not even in playing a video game.
“You don't get fouled that much in NBA2K,” Bennamon, Goose Creek's junior point guard, said Wednesday during his lunch break.
Top-ranked Irmo has a perfect 28-0 record, but Goose Creek has a chance Friday night in the Class AAAA state championship game at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia.
If they can just get to the line, where they were almost perfect last week against Sumter.
The Gators made 33 of 36 free throws in a 57-47 Lower State championship game victory at the Florence Civic Center.
“After a while,” Bennamon said, “it almost became like the free throws were layups.”
Davidson leads NCAA Division I teams with an 81.8 free-throw percentage.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are tops in the NBA at 83.3.
Goose Creek, like tossing a ball into the creek itself, made 91.6 percent of its free throws against Sumter.
“It probably helps that we've shot with all different kinds of backgrounds behind the basket,” Bennamon said. “At our gym, it's a solid wall behind the basket. At Wando, there are people behind the basket, crazy people making noise and holding signs. Then in Florence, it's a lot of empty space with no one behind the basket. That was kind of awkward.”
Truth is, Goose Creek (22-4) needed emergency free throw aid because of awful field goal shooting. Bennamon, averaging 21.3 points per game, made only 2 of 17 shots from the floor.
“Dantez is one of the best basketball players in South Carolina, if not the best,” senior guard Rashard Alston said. “For him to make only two field goals and still have 24 points, that's just an awesome performance. I mean, 19 for 19 is unheard of.”
Of course, the best offense is a strategy that completely restrains an entire defense.
Free throw shooting, however, isn't as easy as it looks — Goose Creek is at 67 percent for the season.
“We were shooting about 50 percent earlier,” Goose Creek head coach Blake Hall said with a smile. “We work on it, but we don't do anything real different.”
At this rate, South Carolina state finals records are in reach. Greer holds the team record for most free throws (26 in 2005), and Derrick Robinson of Byrnes has the individual record (12 in 1983).
Chris Singleton, a junior guard, was Goose Creek's second-best free throw shooter against Sumter. All he did was make 11 of 14.
Much has been made of the Goose Creek basketball team wanting to win for a juggernaut Gators football team kicked out of the 2012 state playoffs for using an ineligible player. Bennamon is the Goose Creek quarterback, and basketball teammates Alston and Deshawn Evans also played football.
The basketball story shines by itself. Hall led North Charleston to the Class AA state championship last year, and Goose Creek won a state title in 2009 under Brad Dobbels, now an assistant coach at Charleston Southern.
This overachieving Goose Creek team has gradually improved after a rocky start.
“It's been a roller coaster ride,” said Alston, who has signed a Newberry College football scholarship. “We opened with a loss to Timberland, a 2A school. But we found ourselves. We realized if we play our game, we're a pretty tough team to beat. Now here we are, going to the state championship.”
Expect the football team at the big game Friday night. They plan to wear their game jerseys at Colonial Life Arena, and cheer for the basketball team to get to the free throw line.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.