Carolina Forest didn’t look like a region champion.
For the first half of Tuesday’s playoff matchup against Wando, the Panthers lacked the intensity that had defined them for much of the season. They trailed 31-29 after two quarters, forcing coach Emmanuel Dewalt to have a frank conversation with them at the break.
“We had a little come-to-Jesus meeting at halftime,” Dewalt said. “I told the guys … ‘We’ve just got to get back to playing our type of basketball and bring the energy.’”
That talk proved effective. The Panthers erupted for a 30-point third quarter, pulling away for a 78-53 win and advancing to face River Bluff in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs on Friday night.
Corbin Pack and Kyle Watkins each scored 16 points for Carolina Forest while Wesley Fletcher and Mark Walker chipped in 11 apiece.
The third quarter was a turning point for the Panthers both offensively and defensively. They pressed the Warriors, generating a flurry of turnovers that frequently ended in Carolina Forest layups.
“It kind of snowballed,” Dewalt said. “The guys really got it going. It was a fun second half.”
The win improves the Panthers' record to 16-4. A No. 1 seed, they will host No. 2 River Bluff this week. Friday's game tips off at 7 p.m. The winner advances to the lower state title game, which will be played at either Dutch Fork or Goose Creek.
Amid all the uncertainties of the COVID-19-shortened season, Dewalt said he's stressed to his players the importance of enjoying each contest.
"All season long, I've just been telling the guys, 'You've got to cherish every moment because you never know when the season's going to come to an end — if you're going to get another game or not.' And so just to be able to be here and for the team to survive and advance, it's really big."
At halftime Tuesday, Dewalt said he told his seniors — including four of his starters — that they didn't want to conclude their high school careers with an outing like they had in the first half.
"That's not how you want to end the season," he said. "We've got a group and we're excited to see what we've got coming."
Other playoff action
Goose Creek 58 Conway 31 (Class 5A boys)