Prior to the start of the 2014-15 high school basketball season, most Lowcountry observers felt the area would send a local team to the Class AAAA Lower State final this season.
However, the big money was on defending state champion Wando making a repeat trip to Florence. But, three months later, the Lowcountry team representing in the Class AAAA Lower State final on Friday night is James Island.
The Trojans continue their magical season, which included a Region 7-AAAA title and two victories over Wando, with a 70-63 overtime win over visiting South Florence on Wednesday night.
James Island (22-5) will take on Sumter on Friday at 8 p.m.
“What a ride,” James Island head coach Stan Wilkins said. “We have been underdogs all season, but these guys just go out and play every night. They bring it all every time they step on the floor. It’s a very special group of young men and I’m so proud of them.
“The last few years we were not able to close out games and we really lost a lot of close games. This year we have found a way to win these types of games. It just speaks the character of our young men.”
James Island is making its first appearance in the Lower State final since the 1991-92 season — the year James Island won a state championship.
Sophomore wing Vince Cole led James Island in scoring with 16 points but had plenty of help. Sophomore center Maurice Hardimon tallied 14 points, including a game-clinching dunk with 14 seconds left in overtime.
Senior guards Lyle Davis (13 points) and Brady Schuck (11 points) were the steady anchors in a game that was sometimes played at a hectic pace. Davis’ last two points were free throws with 28 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Trojans a 68-63 lead.
“(Davis) doesn’t get as much credit or publicity as some of the other guys on this team, but he’s a bulldog out there,” Wilkins said. “Nobody I would rather have on the line than that kid.”
James Island bolted out to a 7-0 lead, and held a 30-23 halftime advantage, before South Florence came out firing 3-pointers in the third quarter. The Bruins made five treys in the third period and six in the second half to make it a game down the stretch.
South Florence trailed 58-53 with 1:35 to play before closing out the game with five straight points to force the overtime period.
James Island quickly grabbed a 61-58 lead on Cole’s 3-pointer and never trailed in the extra session.
“We knew they would be tough, and man they hit some big shots there in the third quarter,” Wilkins said. “South Florence is a good basketball team. Both teams left it all on the floor.”