North Charleston's Fab Four is back in the Final Four, and they did it the hard way.
Down by 11 points with 7:22 left in regulation of Wednesday night's Class AA playoff game against Mullins, the Cougars boys basketball team rallied to force overtime and went on to win, 61-57.
The Cougars (21-6) next travel to the Florence Civic Center for a 3:30 p.m. showdown Saturday against Marion, which advanced with a 66-48 victory over Timberland. The winner gets its ticket punched to next weekend's state championship at the Colonial Life Center in Columbia.
The Cougars got revenge against Mullins (23-3). Last winter, the Auctioneers handed the Cougars a 64-59 loss in the Lower State championship.
"The kids wanted to play Mullins," said Cougars first-year coach Blake Hall. "Ever since they won Saturday, they wanted Mullins. They didn't want to play Silver Bluff. They wanted Mullins."
The Fab 4 includes seniors James Brown, Bernard Samuel, Anthony Williams and Jamal Baldwin. They didn't want to make Wednesday's game their farewell appearance. The rally kept the Cougars' hopes alive for their first state title since 1997.
"We just kept on fighting," said Samuel, who gave the Cougars the lead for good when he hit a free throw and rebounded his second attempt and scored with 1:47 left in OT to make it 55-52. "We had all the determination we needed. We just gave it our max effort and kept on fighting."
Samuel scored 14 points, but was dominant in overtime. He scored four points in the fourth quarter including a dunk with three minutes left to cut the lead to 49-43.
James Brown, who finished with 23 points, followed with a twisting layup and, just like that, the lead was only 49-45.
"That's all on the kids," said Hall. "They have been responsible and resilient all year. They're a close-knit group and I'm just proud to be their coach."
The difference late in the game was free throws. The Auctioneers missed four free throws in the final 1:45 of regulation, including the front end of two one-and-ones. They made only 2 of 6 in the four-minute overtime.
Anthony Williams also was in double figures for the Cougars with 15 points.
Darnell Coleman led Mullins with 25 points. He hit five 3-point goals. Alex Brown added 14 points, including eight in the first quarter when the visitors jumped to a 16-4 lead. The Cougars cut the margin to 20-16 at halftime and went on to post the overtime win. The Cougs held a 10-6 scoring advantage in overtime.
Mullins (57): Coleman 25, Jenkins 4, Harley 6, Constant 3, Brown 14, Waters 5.
North Charleston (61): Samuel 14, Raynor 4, Baldwin 5, Brown 23, Williams 15.