It nearly all slipped away in an instant, but the Hilton Head High boys basketball team dug in and survived a tremendous first-round test.
Will McCracken delivered a strong 15 points on a night when scoring was at a premium, and the Seahawks used a remarkable late defensive effort to hold off North Myrtle Beach 37-36 at the Nest on Monday and advance to the 4A Lower State semifinals.
“It feels good, but right now at this part of the season, we shouldn’t have games this close,” McCracken said. “It’s a great pull-off for our team, but we need to get back tomorrow, and get back to work.”
It looked like Hilton Head would roll through the Chiefs early, opening the game on a dominant 8-0 run with four different players finding the basket. Jaylen Sneed showed off his stellar shot in addition to his leaps with a corner jumper to open the scoring, and big man Sam Summa did what he does best, scoring in the paint to double the early lead.
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Then the incredible defensive effort fueled the offense, as a Summa steal led to an easy bucket for Alex Smith. The Seahawks locked in on defense in the first quarter, holding North Myrtle Beach to just two points with their relentless intensity and dedication to force difficult shots inside and induce mistakes.
The Seahawks were looking strong with an eight-point lead to end the opening quarter, but the visiting Chiefs found the offense early in the second, rattling off a 9-3 run sparked by a Rogan Vincent 3-pointer to cut the deficit to just a pair. Adam Clark came to the rescue to cool off the NMB surge, knocking down a stepback jumper from the free-throw line, but the squads continued to trade buckets late in the half. The Chiefs capitalized on a Hilton Head turnover and an offensive board to trim the deficit back to a deuce going into the break.
The back-and-forth affair continued in the third quarter, as both sides drained a three with Elijah Vereen’s corner strike answering McCracken’s triple on the other end. Then Hilton Head’s star-studded duo went to work, as the Summa-McCracken tandem rose to the occasion early in the second half, combining for all 14 third-quarter points.
Summa followed up a miss with a putback and worked his magic again in the post, while McCracken continued his lethal play on all levels, knocking down his second triple of the period before snatching the ball away on defense and taking it in for a layup to up the lead to eight.
But just as it looked like Hilton Head might finally pull away, the Chiefs responded with five points in an instant including a Kris Webb three to make it 31-28 with just eight minutes to play.
The nervous energy continued to mount along the bleachers as the fourth quarter commenced. Na’keydrick Black delivered an ideal start for the Seahawks with a terrific take to the rim, and after a Kymani Knox free throw, the flashy Smith found a lane and stormed to the rim, sinking the layup and a free throw to complete the three-point play and make it a seven-point ‘Hawk advantage.
Hilton Head had a chance to keep the momentum going and extend the lead, but several miscues on the offensive end kept their opponents in striking distance. North Myrtle Beach switched to a full-court press and forced several turnovers to spark their own offense.
All of a sudden, the Chiefs rattled off seven straight points, including five in a row from Javi Marlowe before Knox capitalized off a turnover and converted a layup to knot the game up at 36. Hilton Head continued its aggressive play on both ends, and Jaylen Sneed earned a trip to the foul line and knocked down one of two to take a one-point lead.
Chane Brown and the Seahawks were built on their standout, no-quit defensive effort, and with their season on the line, they delivered. North Myrtle Beach was just a bucket away from its first lead of the game as the clock ticked down in the fourth, but Hilton Head’s defense stayed composed and refused to allow anything easy. The Chiefs had several cracks at it on the offensive end, but a missed three and a monster McCracken block at the rim kept the slimmest of margins intact.
Smith missed a golden opportunity to extend Hilton Head’s lead at the foul line, but the defense dug in again with under 25 ticks remaining and forced an NMB timeout. The Chiefs were eying the miraculous come-from-behind win on the potential final possession, but Summa made a tremendous play, snatching away the ball after the inbounds pass before getting fouled.
The senior missed the front end of the one-and-one, and the visitors corralled the rebound with one final chance at playoff glory. The ball was given to Vincent who fired the season-deciding shot from downtown, but the final bid rattled off the rim and out, completing a tremendous game-ending defensive stand and sending the Seahawks to the elite eight.
“I talked about how I think it would benefit us to dig in and play to our strengths, which is getting stops, and I think that showed up big tonight,” Summa said. “This game reminded me of last year’s games, a nail-biter, low-scoring, defensive game. It was good for us to be tested, it’s going to make us a better team.”
Just like he has been all season, McCracken was the difference-maker, delivering a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds while swatting away four shots. Sam Summa cleaned up on the glass, pulling down 12 boards along with scoring eight points.
Marlowe, Knox, and Kris Webb led a balanced North Myrtle Beach effort with seven points each. The Chiefs will look back at their numerous missed opportunities from long range, misfiring on all 10 tries in the fourth quarter.
It certainly wasn’t their best performance of the season, but Hilton Head (14-2, 9-0) survived, and will host Myrtle Beach in a battle of the Seahawks in the 4A Lower State semifinals on Thursday night. McCracken knows that it’ll take a lot more if they want to take this dream season all the way.
“We gotta limit our turnovers,” McCracken said. “We can’t turn the ball over as much, we gotta focus more on D, and we gotta start making our shots.”
By Wes Kerr