TURBEVILLE -- On a night where the term hotly contested could be considered an understatement, Woodland came into East Clarendon's gymnasium and played the role of bracket buster, knocking the higher seeded Wolverines out in the first round of the 2A state playoffs with surprising ease, 56-34.
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The visiting Wolverines began to pull away late in the first half, closing on a 13-2 run to take a 27-15 lead to the locker room. Tempers began to flare on both sides shortly after the second half resumption of play, resulting in two double technical foul calls before the end of the third quarter. The first call came at the 6:26 mark and involved EC's Jalen Bryant and Woodland's Markaden Bryant. Then, with 1:36 on the clock, a heated exchange between Tyjhai Calvin and Carlous Pelzer resulted in the second double call.
Another technical, this one on EC's Keyon Wilson for disputing an out-of-bounds possession call, came with 4:05 remaining and left the home Wolverines staring at a 48-29 deficit with little to no hope of making up the difference in such a short time frame.
EC was playing its second game without head coach Seneca Barron, who was serving the back end of a 2-game suspension after being ejected in the Wolverines' 67-56 loss at eventual Region VII champion Johnsonville on Feb. 10. EC, which finished second to the Flashes and entered the playoffs as a No. 2 seed, managed a 60-58 win at Mullins in its Feb. 12 season finale but could not overcome Region V's fourth place team and No. 3 seed Woodland without Barron's guidance.
"We tried to do some things," said acting head coach Frankie Lloyd of EC's preparation without Barron leading up to Wednesday. "I ran practice a few times without him here, just to try to kind of get used to it. We had a game under our belt (without him) and we were away, so we kind of were able to tune out a lot of the distractions. But coming home for the playoffs (and facing) a lot of pressure, unfortunately I feel like I let them down, let the community down, let the school down and that's something that I've got to deal with and work on, but we just never really got in the flow tonight."
While Barron was not available to coach Wednesday's game, Lloyd said he communicated with and received encouragement from Barron before the game.
"We talked throughout the day today," Lloyd said. "Me and him talk every day. We work together, we're together on weekends, we take the team to church together, so we're always around each other. He told me 'Coach, hey, go get 'em.' Unfortunately I just wasn't able to get it done tonight."
Lloyd said the chippy and confrontational nature of the second half was uncharacteristic of the Wolverines' play throughout the season, which they closed with an 18-6 record.
"Yeah, it got chippy, and that's not us," Lloyd said. "That's not who we are, that's not how we want to play, it's not how we want to do things and that was disappointing. It really was. That's not the brand of basketball that we want to play. We want to have character and be disciplined and play the game the right way."
The game was close through the first quarter-and-a-half, with Wilson draining a 3-pointer to close the opening eight minutes and pull the home team within two, 9-7. EC trailed 14-13 after a Tymere Cooper free throw at the 4:44 mark of the second quarter, setting the stage for Woodland's rally to close the half.
EC pulled within nine on two occasions in the third quarter but could not get any closer as the visitors scored the game's final six points to pad the final margin.
Jalen Bryant closed with nine while Jaquil Wilson added eight for EC.
Chris Williams scored 17 to top Woodland, which will carry an 8-12 record into a Saturday second-round matchup against Oceanside Collegiate Academy, a 50-31 winner over Eau Claire on Wednesday.
The unexpected early playoff exit brought a sudden halt to the EC playing careers of eight seniors, including starters Calvin, Bryant, Jaquil Wilson and Marquis Pearson and reserves Nicholas McFadden, Ronald Harrison, Davonta McFadden and Terry Baker.
"We're losing a really great group of guys," Lloyd said. "Jalen Bryant has been with Coach Barron all four years and they've really turned this program around. I hate that they had to end their career like this because this was a really special group. We had high hopes this year of trying to win the region and then making it to (the state championship game in) Columbia. Those were some of our goals and I really hate that they had to go out on a night like this, without their head coach, at home in the playoffs. That's unfortunate for those kids."
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