SALUDA — Mid-Carolina High School locked up third place in the region Monday night with a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Saluda.
Trailing by 14 points heading into the fourth quarter, Coach Emmanuel Dewalt gathered his players and told them to win the game by winning one possession at a time.
Earlier in the year Dewalt read the poem “One Possession” to his players, a poem about a player who was unfocused and undisciplined because it was just one possession. In the poem, the player’s team loses by one point.
The first step in adopting the poem’s mantra was defense.
Senior guard Dominique Wheeler drew the on-the-ball defensive assignment on Saluda’s senior point guard and Anderson University commitment Maurice Henderson.
“Henderson is so quick and great in transition so he did a great job getting them from end to end of the court,” Dewalt said. “We had to stop the ball so I told ‘Speedy’ to deny Maurice the ball, pressure Maurice when he had the ball and if he gave up the ball for to keep Maurice from getting it back.”
Wheeler clamped down and his teammates rotated on defense with the results Mid-Carolina High School needed. Saluda did not score until three minutes into the fourth quarter. After that basket the next time a shot tickled the twine for the Tigers was with 1:15 remaining.
The Rebels closed the gap and took the lead thanks to a career high scoring night from Junior Danton Hyman who scored 27. Hyman was clutch at the line particularly in the fourth quarter when Saluda fouled often. In the final frame he hit 6 of 7 from the line.
Zach Parker added 23 and Zy Hiller 10 for MCHS.
A back and forth first quarter ended with the teams tied at 15 but a second quarter Saluda run allowed the Tigers to pull ahead. Dewalt said missed assignments, players out of position and players getting beaten on the glass for offensive rebounds and put backs each contributed to the deficit.
That trend continued into the third quarter as the Tigers got more second and third chance points. Dewalt called timeout and got his players to crash the boards, which helped in the final frame.
Early foul trouble was another reason the Rebels found themselves trailing by nine at the break. Senior captain Dante Boyd was in foul trouble for the second quarter.
Wheeler got two fouls within the first two minutes so he spent most of the first half on the bench.
Dewalt said Jhi Wright gave the team quality minutes at the point in Wheeler’s absence.
Trey Green logged big minutes and used his speed and athleticism to defend Henderson and coach said Malik Pearson gave the Rebels quality minutes.
“Guys stepped up and played their hearts out. In my three years at MCHS, going into the fourth quarter down 14 … my other two teams may not have fought back,” he said.
The Rebels outscored the Tigers 26-9 in the fourth quarter and for the game the team hit 17-20 from the free throw line.
“Our guys are starting to believe and have confidence in each other. We played tough non-conference games for nights like this, so we would mentally tough and prepared,” he said. “If you shoot like that you will win a lot of games.”
At press time, the opponent had not been announced for the Rebels playoff game. The MCHS boys will play the loser of the Carolina-Crescent game while Saluda would play the Carolina-Crescent winner.
That uncertainty did little to change Dewalt’s approach to preparing his players.
“I tell guys that we take ‘em one game at a time and that the most important time is the next 30 minutes,” he said. “The big thing is to keep them focused on the task at hand.”
Dewalt called on the community to hit the road to either the upstate location and support his Rebels or to head to Blacksburg on Thursday night and support the Lady Rebels.
“This playoff game is a great opportunity to go play, no matter who our opponent turns out to be,” he said. “It’s a stepping stone as we work to change the culture of MCHS basketball. People in the community talk about the Newberry teams, and deservedly so, but we want people to talk about us as well (as we work to get our program to that level).”
If the two Rebels teams win and the Newberry High School Bulldogs win their opening round games, there will be a double header playoff game Saturday between the two rivals.