Stratford’s boys basketball team got its first prize fight victory of the season last week, pulling out a gritty 56-53 win over West Ashley.
“This is like fighting Mike Tyson, Holyfield, Pacquiao and Mayweather every night,” Stratford coach Troy Johnson said. “Our breaks are over. If we can make the playoffs, we’ll be in pretty good shape.”
The win was the first in the Region 7-AAAA slate for the Knights (14-4, 1-1 region), who had lost to rival Goose Creek 54-47 in their only other region contest.
Demetre Rivers scored 15 of a team-high 17 points in the second half as the Knights bounced back from a five-point deficit. Rashad Palmer and Thad Thompson added 12 and 10 respectively for Stratford. Marquise Calvary chipped in six points.
The Knights left the door open for West Ashley in the closing seconds by missing a free throw with 5.7 seconds left. The Wildcats had a chance to send it to overtime with 1.1 seconds left but came away empty on three free throws.
“Last year we had the same scenario,” Johnson said. “We had two fouls to give with 5.1 seconds left and we elected not to foul. They hit a 3-pointer to force overtime and we lost. This year, we wanted to foul them… I didn’t want déjŕ vu.”
Stratford almost got it anyway, accidentally fouling a West Ashley player in the act of shooting. But all three missed the mark as the Knights reached their best win total under Johnson.
“Any time you can beat a perennial powerhouse like West Ashley and a coach like Ron Dupre, it’s a milestone win,” Johnson said. “He does one of the best jobs in South Carolina. He really does.”
Rivers’ versatility loomed large in the fourth quarter for the Knights. He had an old-fashioned three-point play to even the score at 45-45 with 5:53 left, then stepped beyond the arc to knock one down from long range, giving Stratford a 50-49 advantage with better than three minutes left.
He cleaned up a 3-point miss by Antonio Stinson to make it 52-49 with 3:01 remaining.
“We’re like the Chicago Bulls when they had Michael Jordan,” Johnson said. “In the fourth quarter, everything is going through Rivers.”
Barry Wright and Thompson helped seal it by making a pair of free throws in clutch situations on the way in. Wright made his two with 1:40 left and Thompson knocked down two with 1:09 remaining.