High School Sports

Darlington rallies past Bobcats, 60-52

Bluffton's Tibra Wheeler tries to find a way to work around Darlington's Keyairria Ervin during Monday's first-round playoff game
Bluffton's Tibra Wheeler tries to find a way to work around Darlington's Keyairria Ervin during Monday's first-round playoff game Jay Karr/The Island Packet

Sheree Williams poked the basketball free, dribbled the length of the court and scored on an easy layup.

At this point, midway through the third quarter of Bluffton High School's girls Class 3-A playoff game with Darlington, the game played to the Bobcats' style. They matched their largest lead of the game.

Forcing turnovers and generating easy buckets won Bluffton many games this season. It was working at home in the first round of the playoffs.

"That's our poison," Williams said. "We saw them on their knees."

But the Falcons eventually stood up, coming back to win 60-52 and bounce Bluffton from the playoff bracket.

The Falcons used a bigger lineup to control the rebounding advantage during the fourth quarter and get to the free-throw line. Bluffton forced turnovers only to give the ball right back. The Bobcats were forced into uncomfortable half-court sets.

"I thought we slowed the ball up a couple times, and I thought they got their second wind," Bluffton coach Lonnie Roberts said. "But I thought that's the way we should go out. Just leave it all on the floor."

Darlington coach Jesse Barber said two of his players played through the flu, that the combination of the bug and more than three hours on the bus led to a slow start. Bluffton opened on an 8-0 run.

A lack of prior knowledge also worked against the Falcons. Barber said he called other Region 7-AAA coaches for a report on Bluffton, but everyone he talked to declined to offer information on a fellow region team.

Barber found the Bobcats to be quick. And he was forced to change defenses several times throughout the game, from a man-to-man, to a 1-3-1 zone to a 2-3, which finally prevented the Bobcats' from penetrating.

"We came out sluggish," said Barber, whose team next travels to face Myrtle Beach. "We were lucky to win."

Williams led all scorers her final high school game with 19 points. Her final steal and basket, with less than four minutes to go, cut Darlington's lead to two. But the Falcons out-muscled the Bobcats for loose balls and rebounds and consistently hit free throws down the stretch.

The Bobcats knew Darlington's Jazma Green was one of the top players in the state and wanted to limit her touches. Green led her team with 13 points, but two other Falcons reached double figures.

"The last four minutes, they brought their 'A' game," Roberts said. "They hit the boards hard and made sound decisions. We just could not get anything going."

Bluffton's girls won the program's first playoff game in 2010. They wanted one better this season. Winning a region title was also on the list of goals. The Bobcats grabbed a share of the regular-season crown but lost out on the top seed on a tiebreaker with Hilton Head High.

Roberts pointed to Bluffton's improved winning percentage as a positive takeaway from the season. He said next season's focus would be on better success in the playoffs and winning the region outright.

Williams won't be back. But the Bobcats have some key pieces returning.

"We definitely didn't expect to be one and done," junior Tibra Wheeler said.

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