FLORENCE – For weeks, the Myrtle Beach boys basketball team has been wondering what its ceiling could be.
Most believed they finally started to reach it on Friday night, when the Seahawks topped A.C. Flora 68-59 to win the Lower State championship at the Florence Center and earn a berth in the Class 4A title game next week in Columbia. In reality, the turning point may have come three days earlier.
It was then, against North Myrtle Beach in the third round of the playoffs, that Craig Martin noticed something in the eyes of one of his best players.
“You could see it when he was sitting on the bench against North Myrtle Beach,” Martin said. “I think everything changed right there. He was a great teammate. He was cheering on his guys. He kept us going. He was extremely positive and carried that from our last game to this game. He was a man among boys. If he wanted to go get the ball, he got it. He was strong with it.”
In this case, “he” is Darius Hough. And in this case, “he” did all of those things Martin talked about in a beautiful act of redemption.
Hough, the talented two-sport star with college potential and aspirations, never took his warm-ups off against the Chiefs, a victim to a few choice words he had to an official that earned him a one-game suspension. That in of itself was bad, but after he was benched for the first playoff game for missing a practice, it compounded his own situation to the nth degree.
Considering he had less than one full playoff game to his credit the last two weeks, Friday was his chance to show his teammates how sorry he was.
The message was received.
Hough finished the game with 11 points and 12 rebounds. He scrapped for loose balls on the floor and didn’t leave the game until a nasty cramp sidelined him for the final 39 seconds after he hit the game-sealing bucket that put he and his teammates up seven points.
“I put myself in a position that cost my team, not being able to be out there,” Hough said. “I had to learn to control my emotions. This wasn’t the right time to be doing that. Me not playing in those playoff games, I knew I had to make up for it.”
Said fellow forward J.J. Jones: “Darius is one hell of a basketball player [because of] his energy.”
There were all sorts of that against the Falcons, who finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Class 4A polls (compared to No. 9 for the Seahawks). But to say that Myrtle Beach won this game solely because of Hough wasn’t even necessarily what played out. Instead, he was the puzzle-completing piece that had been missing either through his absences or those of the team’s second-leading scorer, Ayden Hickman, who was battling two nagging injuries and missed the final three games of the regular season.
With both in tow, everything came together on the second-biggest stage of the state’s postseason.
Hickman had a game-high 16 points. Guard Emorie Knox had 15. James Marques, another guard, had 14. And Jones, who finished with eight, also played stellar defense on A.C. Flora’s 6-foot-10 center Patrick Iriel, who had a relatively quiet 10 points in the game and just four at halftime.
J.B. Moore added 13 for the Falcons, but the full availability allowed Martin’s team to maximize its transition game and then push tempo. All told, the Seahawks led for all but about the first 35 seconds of the game.
Each time A.C. Flora closed the gap and looked primed to take the lead, Myrtle Beach responded by holding strong.
Because of it, the Seahawk will face two-time defending Class 4A champion Ridge View next Saturday night at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia.
“They know what’s at stake,” Martin said. “I don’t think we’re going to have to sell them on anything.”