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COLUMBIA – Third-ranked Keenan punched its ticket to the Class AA Upper State championship basketball game for the second time in three seasons, but it took a strong effort to handle the hoops task.
No. 5 Indian Land battled the Raiders all the way before 23-5 KHS took an 86-76 home win over the Warriors in the Class AA Upstate semifinals on Wednesday, Feb. 20.
The Raiders, who face Newberry High for the Upstate crown on Saturday afternoon at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, had to hold off the gutsy IL Warriors to notch the 10-point win.
“Indian Land’s a very good team and I wouldn’t want to face them again this season,” Keenan coach Zach Norris said. “They kept coming at us, but that was no surprise because I knew they would make a run at us. They weren’t going to give up.”
The Warriors, who finished 23-3, made a hard charge in the third period, quickly slicing the Raiders’ 37-30 halftime lead to three, 37-34, on back-to-back baskets from IL freshman sensation Rakym Felder.
Felder was brilliant with 42 points – 19 in the first half and 23 in the second. He hit an assortment of shots from outside jumpers to twisting drives to the basket.
Three times in the third period, the Warriors sliced the gap to one, but couldn’t gain the lead.
“We were right there, so close,” said IL coach Nate Smith. “We couldn’t get our shots to fall, but that’s playoff basketball. Sometimes it’s being in the right place at the right time.
“We would get something, but we just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Warriors’ senior guard Haydan Sawyer, who scored all of his eight points in the second half, drained a trey to make it, 50-49 late in the third period, but the Raiders responded behind senior captain Jaquan Allen who hit two straight buckets to cap the quarter for a 54-49 KHS lead.
Allen, who netted 19 points, hit one of two free throws, and Eric Hopkins, with 22 points, scored off a key steal to push the Raiders’ lead to 57-49 to open the fourth quarter.
From that point, Indian Land could only get as close as four points on three occasions, and then the Raiders began a decisive trip to the foul line to seal the verdict.
Felder’s two free throws with 2:50 to play chopped the KHS lead to four, 70-66, but the Raiders responded with junior star Marcus Stroman sinking eight straight free throws over a 42-second stretch for a 78-66 lead with 90 seconds to play. Stroman led Keenan with 24 points, including 14 of 16 at the line in the final period.
The Raiders, in the fourth quarter, made 22 of 28 at the line, 30-42 for the game.
“Normally, we don’t knock them down like that, but we did tonight,” Norris said. “We got to the foul line and made them count. I think the key was having our three best shooters get to the line.”
“They made their shots,” Smith said. “Keenan was the best team tonight.”
The Raiders never trailed in the game and broke from a 4-all tie in the first period to build a 16-6 lead on the way to a 21-13 lead after the opening quarter.
The Raiders forged a 34-22 spread with 3:23 to go in the second period before the Warriors, behind Felder’s 13 second-quarter points, closed the gap to seven, 37-30 at the break.
Felder hit the first four points of the second half and the Warriors kept within striking distance until KHS’s late surge at the stripe to clinch the win.
“Felder put us on his back,” said Smith of the IL freshman, a Class AA all-state pick and the Region IV-AA Player of the Year.
“That kid’s at the next level,” Norris said. “We ran two or three different kids at him, but when we went to a zone, and that help to slow him down.”
Felder led IL with 42 points and freshman point guard Darnell Rogers finished with 20, including three treys. He had 11 in the second half to keep IL in the game. Lee McCall had four and Connor Butler scored two.
Charles Smith tallied 16, 10 in the second half, to give the Raiders four players in double figures.
IL’s Smith, in an emotional dressing room with the impact of the season-ending loss, could still see a bright side.
“We have 23 wins and not many people can say that,” he said. “We have nothing to be ashamed of, and I’m not going to forget these seniors. They helped get that region championship, the first in some 40 years at Indian Land.
“One day, we’re going to get that big trophy in Columbia and their names will be on it because they help build this.”