Linc Lyles and the Whale Branch Early College High School boys basketball team always make sure to reserve a good bit of practice time each day for end-of-game situations.
One of them -- designed to guard against a team on an inbounds pass -- features 6-foot-5 Malik Spicer on the ball, ultimately forcing the offense to throw into the backcourt and thus shaving a few precious seconds off the clock.
It's the same play Lyles and the Warriors ran Tuesday night against Bluffton with 4.5 seconds to play and Whale Branch leading by just one point.
"I said, 'Let's just go with it,' " Lyles said. "If they score off of it, I look like a dummy, but that's coaching."
Lyles was no dummy on this night. Bobcats guard Demetrius Smalls took the inbounds pass, turned up court and came up short on a jumper just outside the paint as time expired, giving Whale Branch a key 55-54 win over the Class 4-A Bobcats in The Den.
"I can't be more proud," Lyles said. "That's probably the best team we're played all year, in my opinion."
Not much is going wrong these days for Lyles and the Warriors. Even late against Bluffton, the coach turned to the 1-3-1 zone -- a defense Whale Branch hasn't used in about a week -- before stifling the Bobcats' bevy of guards.
It's a formula that's been working for Whale Branch, which rode its record to 6-1 with the victory. The Warriors remained No. 4 in the Class 1-A poll this week, a personal best for the program, and higher marks seem to be on the way.
"The first thing I do is I cut (the rankings) out and I show it to them," Lyles said. "I don't ball it up, because it's a sense of pride. But I put it face down and tell them we're not going to post it up. Let's let everybody else talk about it."
The Warriors led by as many as 11 in the first half but watched as Bluffton (2-1) trimmed the deficit to 2 at the break. The Bobcats took their first lead of the game with 3:33 to go on the eighth straight point from Smalls, but watched as Whale Branch reeled off six straight after that, thanks in part to a technical foul on Bluffton guard C.J. Frazier.
But Frazier -- who played for the first time this season -- atoned for the error with a pair of triples, giving Bluffton a 53-51 advantage. Buckets by Terrell Hazel and Simeon Middleton then gave Whale Branch a lead it would not relinquish.
"Forget about being the best down here or even in our region," Bluffton coach Brett Macy said. "If these guys want to make a run in the playoffs, you have to practice with a purpose every single day. And we just didn't do that Monday, and that's the most disappointing thing."
Bluffton takes the court again Friday against Hilton Head Island High while Whale Branch is off until Dec. 19 when the Warriors host Battery Creek.
Whale Branch boys 55, Bluffton boys 54
Whale Branch -- Simeon Middleton 13, Dee Delaney 12, Jay Abney 8, Michael Middleton 7, Terrell Hazell 6, Charles Jiles 5, Denzel Daniel 2, DeVonta' Glover 2
Bluffton -- C.J. Frazier 13, Demetrius Smalls 13, Harlan Kendrick 12, Anthony Smith 6, Ahdonus Cofer 4, Chance Murphy 2, Jeremy Scott 2, B.J. Hill 2
Whale Branch girls 73, Bluffton 38
Whale Branch coach Wilbur Bryant blamed a lack of focus for last week's loss at Hilton Head High, the first of the season for the No. 4-ranked Warriors.
"We weren't focused and the next thing you knew we were down 15 or 16 points," he said. "Coming back was real hard for us because we never had to do that before. It was a lesson learned."
That much is certain. The Warriors (6-1) followed that loss up with a 32-point beatdown of Wade Hampton before blowing out Bluffton on Tuesday evening.
The Warriors jumped out to a 19-0 lead over the Bobcats (0-3) in the first period and cruised from there. Kemoni Jenkins scored 23 for Whale Branch while S'Nitra Mack netted 21 points and eight rebounds. Sharrin Reed added 19 points, five assists and five steals.
Whale Branch -- Kemoni Jenkins 23, S'Nitra Mack 21, Sharrin Reed 19, Dana Chapel 4, Kenyada Moultrie 2, Elaine Simmons, Jonae Riley
Bluffton -- Dynasty Mervin 14, Monique Whitley 7, Tatyana Fripp 5, Rickii Alexander 4, Alexis Manuel 3, Johnnie Gaston 2, Diamon Smalls 2, Tiffany Banks 2