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GREENVILLE – The No. 5 Newberry Bulldogs are again the top dogs in Class AA Upper State boys basketball.
The hard-charging Bulldogs, 25-4, captured their third consecutive Class AA Upper State championship with a 78-66 win over Indian Land High School on Saturday, March 1 at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville.
Newberry, working its relentless fast-paced attack and transition game, was able to take control midway the third quarter and steadily build its margin for the 12-point win and a third straight berth in the Class AA state title game at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia.
Newberry faces defending Class AA boys state champion Lake Marion, 27-1, after the Gator defeated Ridgeland-Hardeeville, 73-62 for the Class AA Lower State title.
The Bulldogs, locked in a battle with the third-ranked Warriors, saw a 37-33 halftime lead fade with an 11-6 IL run to net a 44-43 edge on Warriors’ sophomore guard Darnell Rogers’ bucket with 4:05 to play in the third quarter.
Rogers paced IL with 27, 13 in the second half.
Then, it was Newberry’s turn, and the Bulldogs, with their aggressive style, turned it on with a pivotal 11-2 run after IL’s Damien Foreman hit a free throw to tie the game at 45-all with 3:15 to go in the period.
“That’s our game,” Newberry High coach Chad Cary said. “We’re going to come at you in the third and fourth quarter and hit you like a ton of bricks. We really don’t care what the score is at the half because we’re going to come out in the second half and hit it hard.”
The Bulldogs’ blitz continued into the final period when they built as much as an 18-point lead, 67-49, when Dominic Gilmore hit an inside bucket.
Indian Land, playing hard to final horn, was able to get as close as nine, 68-59, on a pair of Rogers’ free throws, but the Bulldogs weathered the IL flurry for the 12-point win and a berth in the state finals on Saturday.
“You have nine seniors and this is our third straight trip to the state championship,” Cary said. “Experience makes a difference. Our state championship experience helped. We’re battled-tested.
“The key was we were able to control the boards,” Cary said. “We knew we had to rebound the ball.”
IL coach Nate Smith said the Bulldogs’ inside game was a major factor.
“We didn’t do those little things you have to do in a big game,” Smith said. “On a stage like this, big-time players have to step up.
“We had too many turnovers and gave them two many second shots,” Smith said. “We also didn’t win many loose balls. We didn’t execute and run our sets.”
The Bulldogs also used a balanced attack with four players in double figures and two more with nine each.
Trey Miller led NHS with 18, 11 in the second half. Notorious Booker followed with 16, 11 in the first half. Jaylen Lindsay hit 12, six in each half, and Dominic Gilmore had 11, seven after the break.
Raquon Davenport and Bennett Wilson each tallied nine. Devon Harmon added three.
Rogers’ 27 paced the Warriors. Damien Foreman scored 17, 10 in the second half. Lee McCall had seven and Derries Hampton had six. Quantra Taylor had four and Mark Morton added three. Brandon Barnes added two points.
Smith, despite the loss, was still happy with the overall season.
“Only one team is going to be happy when the season is over and it’s all said and done,” Smith said. “With this season, we have a lot to build on. I can’t find a negative word.
“We lost nine from last season and to come back and play for the Upper State championship, I can’t complain.
“We had a great season,” Smith said.