If there were doubts the Ridgeland-Hardeeville boys basketball team could return to the state championships in Columbia this season, Tuesday night’s win over Silver Bluff showed the Jaguars may be contenders.
And the same time, longtime head coach Jeremiah Faber wasn’t happy with how the Jaguars played, and there is work to be done.
Ridgeland-Hardeeville, ranked sixth in Class 2-A, knocked off No. 2 Silver Bluff 71-60. An 11-point final margin, though, hides some of the Jaguars’ difficulties.
The first half had been fast-paced but not reckless, though both teams found themselves in the bonus with more than 10 fouls. But the Jaguars held onto a slim lead, and there was an air in the gym that wouldn’t change.
Then it did.
After five quick Jaguars points, the wheels didn’t come off the wagon, but it wasn’t going anywhere.
Ridgeland-Hardeeville scored just one basket the final 6:45 of the quarter and the Bulldogs closed the frame on a 15-2 run.
Suddenly Silver Bluff had a 52-47 lead entering the final eight minutes.
“We came out of halftime very flat,” Faber said. “We made some bad decisions on shots. We were sloppy and we allowed them to get out in the open court.
“After the third quarter, I reminded them, ‘to get back to Columbia, you want to play at home. First place in our region is on the line tonight. We want to hold service on our own court.’ ”
Senior forward Trenard Ferrell said the solution to the Jaguars’ problems was simple.
“We just needed to play better,” he said. “I just needed to play better.”
And they made it look that simple. No matter how you slice it up, the Jaguars dominated the final frame, outscoring the Bulldogs 24-8.
The Jaguars held the Bulldogs scoreless over a roughly four minutes and closed the game on a 17-4 run.
Ferrell played a big part in the fourth-quarter domination with seven points, including a big kick-out 3-pointer and two forceful blocked shots in a five-second span in the game’s final minute.
The 6-foot-6 senior finished with a game-high 24 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots. Tre’von Anderson scored 21 points with five rebounds and two assists.
Faber said the Jaguars played better defense, and scoring early allowed them to get into their trap and score some easy baskets.
“Our effort was better. Our decision making was better,” he said. “We shared the basketball a whole lot better in the fourth quarter than we did the third quarter.”
Faber knows when the playoffs come, the Jaguars can’t expect to play catch-up and come out on top every time.
“I just told the players, ‘we know how to grind but we shouldn’t have to put ourselves in that position,’ Faber said. (We made) bad decisions. We kept sending No. 1 (Silver Bluff's Malcolm Green, 21 points) to the free-throw line. We kept making dumb fouls.
“For some reason, over the last three years, we’ve learned we can grind, but we shouldn’t put ourselves in that position.”
With the win, Ridgeland-Hardeeville (14-3, 5-1 Region 5-AA) is the outright leader in its region and is a game up on Silver Bluff — the Jaguars swept the season series and own the tiebreaker.
If the Jaguars can iron out the kinks over the final five games before the playoffs, at least a repeat of last year’s trip to Columbia, a first for the program, is not out of the question.
But even if they match the feat, Ferrell and Faber make it clear this year is different.
“This is a different team. We aren’t as big as last year, but we make up for it in other ways,” Ferrell said. “Just because we have shorter players doesn’t mean we don’t have guys that can play big. Don’t make that mistake thinking that.”
This team has evolved,” Faber said. “There are really no similarities between last year’s team and this year’s team.
“This team has evolved into something all on it’s own.”