The image of Eric Freeman hobbling off the floor and slumping down onto a concrete step to receive attention from an athletic trainer Wednesday might have alarmed some.
Specifically those anticipating this as the year for big things from the Battery Creek High School boys basketball team. Whatever the Dolphins are capable of in these Class 2-A playoffs, Freeman will be an integral part.
And so the reason for worry, as he sat a second time during the first-round game against Wade Hampton. Freeman strained a ligament in the knee earlier in the season during a loss to Beaufort High School; this seemed like another setback.
But Freeman would return, cramps the only culprit. He helped host Battery Creek hold off the determined Red Devils to win 75-70 on Wednesday.
Freeman finished with 21 points, including a big fourth-quarter slam. He feasted at times on a small Wade Hampton lineup.
"It's a green light for me," Freeman said. "I can attack more. I can tell them to throw it over the top and go straight up."
Battery Creek will play host Saturday to Lee Central, which defeated Waccamaw 72-67.
Freeman was named one of the top five players in 2-A during the preseason by the state's coaches and has validated the selection. He averages 15.3 points, five rebounds and more than a block per game.
His presence is the biggest asset, affecting the flow of the game when he is on the floor. That fact was magnified against Wade Hampton, a much smaller team that relied on tenacious guard play to hang around.
Red Devils point guard James Ford, only a sophomore, created opportunities by regularly breaching the lane. When the Dolphins sat in a zone to deny him, Wade Hampton converted open 3-point attempts.
"I couldn't sleep for two nights back to back, because I knew just the type of kids that Wade Hampton has," Battery Creek coach Antoine Youmans said. "They always have good ball players."
The Red Devils' two 3-pointers to open the second half brought them within four. They tied the game at 58 on a layup with 3:44 remaining.
But Freeman returned from his cramps to take a pass from Smalls on the low block and throw down the dunk that swung the momentum. The Dolphins made 8 of 12 free throws in the final 2:37 to hold off Wade Hampton.
Wade Hampton coach Shelby Strothers said he doesn't play small purposefully -- his biggest post player is 5-foot-11 senior Keante Jackson. Lacking a true post presence, he wanted his guards to fall in and double-team Freeman, trying to force his touches out a less dangerous distance from the basket.
Perhaps easier said than done.
"We knew we couldn't stop it once he got down there," Strothers said. "He's just too big."
Follow assistant sports editor Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.
BATTERY CREEK 75, WADE HAMPTON 70
Wade Hampton (10-11) -- Jaquan Harris 23, Keante Jackson 14, James Ford 9, Stephen Brooker 7, Kevin Dunbar 6, Dontae Joyner 3.
Battery Creek (21-3) -- Eric Freeman 21, Devontae Wilson 12, Trevin Simmons 11, Adonis Williams 10, Markell Smalls 8, Jeffrey Darden 4, DeQuan Robinson 3, Christian Brown 3.