D.J. Dobson knows a good finish to a basketball game, even if he has not been part of the recent tense games between Bluffton High School and Whale Branch Early College High School.
The Bobcats forward, a Dutch Fork transfer, was introduced to the Beaufort County slugfest Tuesday in a game that included all the intriguing attributes of the series -- a raucous crowd, tight game and two animated coaches who rarely leave a timeout unburned, even when they have none remaining.
Bluffton came back during the second half on the road, out-running the Warriors in transition and knocking down key 3-pointers to win 67-59 in a game not decided until the final minute. The Bobcats improved to 3-0 after taking down the top-ranked team in Class 1-A.
"That's one of the best games I've played in high school," the senior Dobson said.
Never miss a local story.
Jae Middleton led Bluffton with 28 points and made all seven of his free throws, including six in the final 19 seconds. Bluffton coach Brett Macy started the game in a zone defense but switched quickly after Whale Branch showed it would knock down open shots.
Man-to-man was risky against the athletic Warriors, Macy said. But the Bobcats showed they also have the athletes.
"They're so hard to guard," Macy said. "But at least we competed. We didn't do everything right; we're not even close to a very good defensive team right now."
Macy was happy with the Bobcats' patience against the press to create open layups.
Down nine at halftime after trailing by as many as 14 during the second quarter, Bluffton worked its way back by converting in transition, and with Middleton's sharp eye. The guard's deep 3-pointer from the right side of the arc tied the game at 50 with 6:10 remaining.
Middleton's next 3 gave the Bobcats a five-point cushion with under a minute to go. After Whale Branch pulled within two on a late tip-in, Whale Branch was issued a technical foul for calling a timeout it did not have.
Warriors coaches argued their timeouts had been tallied incorrectly at the scorer's table. Bluffton sank all eight of its free throws over the final 18.9 seconds to escape Seabrook with its unblemished record intact.
"That is an elite team with a chance to win a state title," Macy said. "I am proud of how we played on their home court."
Bluffton boys 67, Whale Branch boys 59
Bluffton (3-0) -- Jae Middleton 28, D.J. Dobson 12, LaQuan Washington 11, Adriel Willis 6, B.J. Hill 6, Lorenz Taylor 2, Chance Murphy 2
Whale Branch (3-2) -- Simeon Middleton 12, Justin Rhode 11, Michael Middleton 9, Denzel Daniel 9, Jay Abney 8, Marlon Williams 6, David Lamb 4
Whale Branch girls 44, Bluffton 26
A defensive switch at halftime helped Whale Branch keep Bluffton's shooters in check.
Warriors coach Wilbert Bryant wants defense to be his team's focus. And he was wary of Bluffton's guards on the wing.
The Bobcats hung around during the first half but were held to only nine points the final two quarters as Whale Branch pulled away. Bryant switched to a 1-3-1 zone during the second half to guard the wings.
"Get out on the shooters, was the main thing," Bryant said. "We're going to work real hard on defense."
Bluffton managed only a single field goal during the final quarter.
Whale Branch won its second straight game after losing at Hilton Head Island High School earlier this month. Bryant said post play has improved since the loss, with Jonae Riley and Shaniqua Johnson contributing underneath.
Kemoni Jenkins helped break down the Bluffton zone up top, either finding a post player for a layup or creating her own space for a jump shot. She finished with 11 points.
Whale Branch plays Wade Hampton on Saturday.
Bluffton (1-2) -- Diamon Smalls 7, Dynasty Mervin 6, Tatyanna Fripp 5, Johnnie Gaston 4, Rickii Alexander 4
Whale Branch (4-1) -- Jonae Riley 12, Kemoni Jenkins 11, Shaniqua Johnson 10, Cheyenne Rogers 9, Dana Chapel 2