Jeremiah Faber stood at midcourt Thursday with his team on the floor in a circle around him.
"You know why we don't play zone?" the Ridgeland-Hardeeville boys basketball coach asked his players. "Because we're a man-to-man team."
In 30 years at the helm in Jasper County, Faber has stuck to many of the same principles. And this is one -- the Jaguars want to play hard-nosed, help-side, man-to-man defense.
Faber wants the Jaguars to force opposing teams out of their sets. And he believes defense has been among the leading reasons Ridgeland-Hardeeville has advanced to the Class 2-A Lower State championship, the first time for a Jasper County school while Faber has been coaching. The Jaguars (21-5) will play Lake Marion at the Florence Civic Center at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
The winner advances to play for the state championship the following week at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia.
In the area's other Lower State final matchup, Whale Branch (22-4) faces Hemingway (18-7) in the Class 1-A game at 12:30 p.m.
Lake Marion (26-1) will provide Ridgeland-Hardeeville's defense a tough test. The Gators have scored 80 points or more in four of their past five games, including a 92-59 victory over Mullins in the third round.
Faber's scouting report is that Lake Marion plays a three-quarters court, 1-3-1 trapping zone. The Jaguars learned to navigate a similar press in beating Calhoun County on Wednesday in the third round.
They're confident in their decision-making.
"I think we can handle it," senior Terrance Frazier said. "Those boys have just got size. They're long."
The Jaguars have not lost a game since Jan. 18 at Bluffton, a 74-54 loss. Since then, Ridgeland-Hardeeville has won 13 consecutive games and allowed only 47 points per game.
Only once more did Faber's team allow 70 points -- during a shootout win at Garrett Academy Tech.
"We defend the basket, we defend the lane, and we help each other out," Faber said. "We do trap occasionally. We do press, but it all boils down to we're going to play our man-to-man defense."
Faber's teams have reached the Lower State semifinal in the past but had not broken through. This group includes senior leadership and a standout performer in Frazier, an all-state guard who leads the Jaguars in scoring.
Frazier, frustrated with a perceived incorrect call on a charge he tried to take late in the game against Calhoun County, scored 11 points during the fourth quarter to help the Jaguars to the milestone victory.
No teams have tried anything too gimmicky to slow the senior this year, although Bluffton shadowed him with defensive specialist B.J. Hill.
"He's so confident," Faber said. "That's his biggest attribute -- he doesn't believe anybody can stop him when he gets going."
The senior and his teammates believe they also have found the patience to deal with the press, something that cracked them on the road at Calhoun County last year. In trying to force the issue on defense against the Gators, the Jaguars are mindful of what it will take to successfully navigate Lake Marion's trapping and matchup zone.
"Now we're a second-year team, and everybody knows how everybody plays," said senior Charles Mitchell. "We know how to find them when they're open."
S.C. High School League Lower State basketball championships
Where: Florence Civic Center
Class 1-A boys -- Hemingway (18-7) vs. Whale Branch (22-4), 12:30 p.m.
Class 2-A boys -- Lake Marion (26-1) vs. Ridgeland-Hardeeville (21-5), 3:30 p.m.