PROSPERITY — The game went into overtime but after 16 years of waiting, the Mid-Carolina High School Rebels boys basketball netted a playoff road win, defeating Carolina 66-62.
Head Coach Emmanuel Dewalt was proud of how his team battled and took the game into overtime.
“We knew going in they were athletic and we had to keep them off of the boards,” Dewalt said.
Early on, the close range shots did not go down for the Rebels and they trailed 15-8. They trimmed the lead to 31-29 at the half but the Rebels still trailed by seven heading into the final frame.
Clutch free throw shooting by Danton Hyman and a key steal in the waning seconds of regulation gave the Rebels a chance to win their second overtime contest in as many games.
They trailed 29-31 at the half and throughout the third quarter the game was back and forth. The Rebels trailed by seven heading into the final frame.
“Compared to the Saluda game (when they trailed by 14 heading into the final quarter) this was nothing,” he said. “We just regrouped, played solid on defense and put ourselves in a position to make it happen.”
The lead was cut to four with 2:30 remaining. Carolina ran about a minute off the clock but missed a shot. MCHS got the rebound and scored to cut it to two.
From there, Danton Hyman took over with a steal at half court. He passed it ahead and MCHS got the game tying basket.
Carolina held for a last shot, so Dewalt called time out.
“If they play for the last shot,” he said, “defend it. Make it tough for them.”
Zy Hiller deflected a pass and the clock expired, so the teams headed to overtime, tied at 57-57.
A 9-5 run gave the Rebels the cushion they needed to win on the road.
Zy Hiller skied for a key offensive rebound after Dominque Wheeler was fouled and uncharacteristically missed both free throws. Hiller kicked the ball out to run clock and then Hyman was fouled. He hit the free throws to put MCHS up by three.
He made one of two free throws with 4.4 seconds remaining to put the game away.
Dewalt said the Rebels limited Carolina star Devontae Foster to 23 points and kept him off the glass. A few nights earlier Foster torched a team for 35.
“This was similar to Saluda (where we won in overtime to clinch third in the region) but this team never quit and never gave in. We really played unselfishly down the stretch ans assists are setting up most of our baskets,” he said. “This selfless attitude is paying dividends.”
It takes time to build a culture and change a program, as Dewalt found out when he took over the head job at Mid-Carolina High School. But three years into his tenure, the Rebels team has elevated to where the program last was in 1998.
With two overtime wins to its credit, the Rebels were confident headed into a second round game against a familiar foe in Newberry.
“This is a tremendous game for our district and our county,” he said. “It’s great for our region too because it increases the likelihood someone from the region will play for the upper state and state championship.”
Though the Rebels withstood an early 9-2 run and climbed back into the game, eventually the Bulldogs’ depth was too much to overcome.
“Going into the Newberry game, we knew they were deep. They have been that way the past few years and really can get out and run. I tried to get our guys to slow them down inside and hoped we would be in it when the fourth quarter rolled around,” he said.
Notorious Booker and his teammates had a few other ideas, though. Still, in the fourth quarter, Dewalt huddled his players together and told them to go out and play hard to represent their school. He called on them to respect the seniors playing their last game and to hold their heads up and respect themselves.
“I was proud of all our guys, but especially halfway through the fourth quarter to see the hustle plays our senior point guard, Dominique Wheeler, was making,” Dewalt said.
Dewalt said team leaders began to emerge, particularly in the last few weeks.
“Our pregame talks are half about life lessons and I had four or five guys come up to me at various times and ask to share something with the team. That’s the first time that’s happened here,” he said.
For Dewalt the season turned with a 3-0 start to region play. Even though the Rebels had their ups and downs on the year the second half contest versus Ninety Six, when MCHS turned a halftime deficit into a more than 15 point win, was when he said his players bought into the system.
“I want to win, make no mistake about that. But coaching is more about molding these players so they become better workers, husbands and fathers some day,” he said. “The first part of each season I have a parent meeting. It’s not about scholarships but about the students graduating high school, learning to be a man and then it’s about basketball.”
He and assistant coach Brandon Baskett are working to develop talent and he is excited by the nucleus he has returning next season.
His first year, MCHS won four games and two of them were region games. Year two they won eight games and two region games. This season MCHS finished 9-18 but trended upward in region play, winning six games this year.
Dewalt also credited junior varsity coach Josh Noble with developing players and helping reload at the varsity level. He also thanked Steven Young, a MCHS alum and student at USC, who came back often as a volunteer to help the program this season.
Next year the region gets tougher with Keenan, Eau Claire, Fairfield Central, Columbia, Pelion and Newberry figuring into the mix.
But for now, this season, the Rebels are soaking in what Dewalt hopes will not be a rarity for the program — a playoff win.