FLORENCE -- The well-wishers hung around the entrance to the Ridgeland-Hardeeville boys basketball locker room until players finally emerged, headphones on and solemn.
The Jaguars' run in the Class 2-A playoffs ended Saturday in the cavernous Florence Civic Center with a 73-62 loss to defending state champion Lake Marion in the Lower State final. Ridgeland-Hardeeville coach Jeremiah Faber, making the first trip to the semifinal round in 30 years as coach in Jasper County, referenced the community's support during his team's run and vowed the Jaguars would be better prepared the next time they reached this stage.
"They made a heck of a run," Faber said. "Every Jastonian that traveled here today to see us play are proud of us."
There was little solace in the pick-me-ups after the game. Ridgeland-Hardeeville felt it could compete with the top-ranked team in Class 2-A, a Gators squad that likes to run and bury opponents by the end.
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The Jaguars (21-6) didn't allow it. But the Gators delivered enough daggers to win, including three consecutive 3-pointers during a torrid third-quarter stretch Faber thought turned the game.
"It's Lower State -- we expect a challenge every time we come out," said Lake Marion guard Clarence Simmons, who made back-to-back 3s during the third quarter run. "We just had to do what we had to do."
Lake Marion coach Roy Brown, who kept his team in the locker room long after the victory, said foul trouble might have slowed the Gators and limited their aggressiveness.
His scouting report on the Jaguars was that Faber's team also liked to run the floor and that guard Terrance Frazier was a standout scorer.
The teams combined to shoot 83 free throws. The Jaguars made 22 of 40. Lake Marion was 30 of 43.
"We didn't like the way that we played, but we're thankful for the win," Brown said.
Faber expected Lake Marion's three-quarter-court zone and trapping and the height. The Gators' roster reads like one from the NBA Developmental League -- 6-4, 6-5, 6-5, 6-7, 6-7.
But for much of the game, the Jaguars played on equal footing. The Gators' run to remove all doubt never materialized as it did during a 92-59 thrashing of Mullins in the third round.
Lake Marion had won 14 consecutive games since its only loss of the season, to Lake City in January. The Gators had scored at least 80 points in four of their previous five games.
Ridgeland-Hardeeville wanted to see how its man-to-man defense matched up with Lake Marion's athletes. During a 13-game win streak entering Saturday's game, the Jaguars allowed 47 points per game and allowed 70 points just once during the stretch, a victory at Garrett Academy Tech.
Lake Marion's decisive burst came on a 15-1 run during the third quarter. The closest the Jaguars came in the final quarter was 10 points with 4:34 remaining.
"Our halfcourt defense was very good," Faber said. "They just took some good shots during that third quarter and knocked them down."
Class 2-A Lower State boys basketball championship
Lake Marion 73, Ridgeland-Hardeeville 62
Lake Marion (27-1) -- Deriante Jenkins 17, Clarence Sellers 15, Tishaun Williams 11, Jermariez Green 10, Michael Rhodes 9, Austin Lawton 6, Kezimen Myers 3, Ja'Quan Oliver 2
Ridgeland-Hardeeville (21-6) -- Charles Mitchell 16, Terrance Frazier 15, Kevon Williams 8, Gaylus Bailey 8, Devante Robinson 7, Ransom Dunham 3, Trenard Ferrell 2, Tyree Simmons 2, Gavin Bush 1