Conway’s rivalry with Carolina Forest is alive and well.
That fact was confirmed during the Tigers' 52-44 win over the Panthers on Tuesday night. The region clash brought everything that fans have come to expect from the teams — a packed house, competitive basketball and plenty of fight.
The game had a steady back-and-forth flow early, with perhaps the most striking note being the energy of the crowd at Conway High School.
Both fan bases left the gym with a standing-room-only feel, something that Conway head coach Michael Hopkins felt was a notable boost for his team as the game progressed.
“It’s something we’ve been used to, especially playing Carolina Forest,” Hopkins said of the home crowd after the win. “There’s a lot of pride, and there was a lot of it in here tonight… it’s been like this for a while. I’m glad we played at home. That energy we got from the home crowd, the student body, it gave us a lot of energy, especially during times where Carolina Forest was trying to slow us down a bit.”
The game was a matchup of two teams ranked in the Top 10 of the latest S.C. Basketball Coaches Association Poll. Conway came in ranked No. 2 in Class 5A while Carolina Forest was ranked No. 8.
Momentum was traded across the court early in an environment that felt playoff-like in nature.
As Conway had first-half opportunities to pull away and extend a lead, Carolina Forest was mostly able to answer quickly, keeping the score close through the second quarter.
Devin Grainger, Conway’s multi-sport standout, led the way with eight points in the first half and helped the Tigers head to halftime with a 26-19 lead.
The start of the second half had a marked change in momentum, however, as the Panthers began the third quarter on a 9-0 run.
Junior Daniel Allen led the charge for the Panthers, converting multiple key rebounds and shots — including a lead-changing three-pointer from long range — to give Carolina Forest a lead in the third.
The Panthers kept a competitive fight, but the night’s momentum returned to Conway late in the third quarter, largely thanks to timely and veteran makes from Grainger.
With about two minutes left in the third quarter, the junior hit a pair of key shots in back-to-back possessions. They helped give the lead back to the Tigers, one they wouldn’t surrender for the rest of the night.
“He’s a player, and players make plays,” Hopkins said of Grainger. “Devin has been playing in meaningful minutes since the eighth grade. It’s something that we’ve just come to expect from him.”
For the Panthers, it was senior Jake Wight leading the way with 14 points. Junior standout Darius Carr added eight, while senior guard Trey Potts hit multiple shots in the second half to score nine.
Carolina Forest’s late effort fell short. They were able to get the game to within two possessions in the fourth quarter, but never close enough to have a chance to sink a difference-maker late in the game.
Next up for Carolina Forest will be a pair of home region matchups. The Panthers will host Sumter on Friday before turning around next week to battle Socastee. Both of those games are set for 7:30 p.m.
For Conway, the Tigers hit the road this Friday, facing Socastee for a chance to begin their region schedule 3-0. The team returns home next week to face Sumter on Jan. 20.
“We enjoyed this tonight, but we have two days to get ready and go play Socastee,” Hopkins said. “We’ll enjoy it tonight, look, learn and get ready for the next one. That’s what it’s all about.”