HINES FURNITURE ATHLETE OF THE WEEK: Wilson Hall's Matthews helps push Barons to region tournament title


Last season, the Wilson Hall boys basketball team won their region title in the regular season only to fall short of claiming the crown in the region tournament. After finishing atop the region once again this season, the Barons were determined to avoid a repeat of history.

At the forefront of that effort was Shawn Michael Matthews.

The junior point guard was electric in the tournament championship against Trinity Collegiate, pouring in 22 points on the way to the crown. After his efforts throughout the week, which included a win to open the SCISA 4A playoffs, Matthews earned another honor, claiming the Hines Furniture Athlete of the Week.

"It's pretty comforting that I have people that take time out of their day to support me," Matthews said of the Wilson Hall community.

Wilson Hall head coach Rip Ripley was impressed by the way the junior was able to elevate his game when it mattered most.

"In the region tournament and the playoffs, I thought he did a great job of getting downhill and scoring. That's where we've seen his progression throughout the year," Ripley said. "Early in the season, he was still learning the point guard position and understanding what being a scoring point guard looks like. He's actually one of the leaders in the state in SCISA for assists, per MaxPreps, so he passes really well also, but to be able to score like he did against Trinity, to be able to attack really worked well.

"His finishing is what we've seen the biggest improvement on. I think a lot of that is just confidence and being able to do it and understanding what we're asking him to do. Seeing that growth is really fun."

Matthews and the Barons certainly had last season in mind when they faced off with Camden Military and Trinity in the region tournament last week. Those memories provided fuel for the fire, as they dominated Camden Military 70-29 before outlasting the Titans for a 56-46 win.

"We just kinda had to take some of those feelings we had from last year, where we should've won, we were in the spot to win, and we choked it," Matthews said. "We kinda used those to fuel us this year."

Matthews was slow out of the gate against Trinity but absolutely took over in the second half. He scored 20 of his 22 points after the break.

"It was an interesting game, like the next game, too, the other team kinda controlled some early, so I think we were looking forward to step up. I think in that Trinity game, it was Shawn," Ripley said. "Hugh (Humphries) did a good job early in that game keeping us in it, and Shawn stepped up late to really push us over the top.

"Him being able to attack from different positions, we kinda moved him around a little bit. He's a point guard, but he's played the post in the past, and he can rip and attack well. To be able to score from different levels, even step out and hit the three, is really, really big."

Matthews was quick to credit his lanky post players, Daniel Burton and Hugh Humphries, for helping him get some easy looks in transition during the second half.

"I think one thing about that game and how it started to flow easier was the pressure we were able to put on the sides where the steals weren't happening. Hugh and Daniel were both putting in a lot of work inside that opened up those break-away layups I had," Matthews said. "They're some of the best teammates I've ever had, probably, because there's so much I can do and try and mess up on, and they're just there to pick up the slack."

The victory allowed the Barons to breathe a heavy sigh of relief.

"It was great. I think the team as a whole was happy we finally did it," Matthews said. "After last year, how sad that was, we were happy to get it done."

The victory gave the Barons some great momentum heading into the first round of the playoffs against Northwood. Matthews and his teammates were confident when they walked into Sumter County Civic Center on Saturday.

"I think anyone you talk to will say that the state playoffs is the best place to be at the end of the season, the most fun, everyone has that energy," he said. "Walking into that energy that already comes with it with a win behind our sails that we didn't have last year gave us a lot of confidence."

But Matthews quickly found himself in some foul trouble, which landed the junior on the bench for stretches. He was able to show maturity by not pressing too much and committing more fouls when he got his opportunities to return to the court, especially as the Barons trailed for most of the night.

"Part of that is just learning. It's my third year on varsity, so I've had some of these moments. This wasn't my first time starting a game with two fouls and having to come in and playing a little more strategically," he said. "Having the core of coaches in my ear keeping me accountable and making sure I make the best plays makes it a lot easier than people think."

When Matthews re-entered the game late, he was able to solidify an offense that struggled to find its footing for most of the night. While he didn't have the same wild scoring output, finishing with seven, he was able to make an impact on the offense as the Barons came from behind and broke away for a 58-53 win.

"It's the comfort with our team this season moving him to the point," Ripley said. "When you've got one of your big guys that's not out there, the other guys stepped up and did a good job of keeping us in it, but I think having him in there gives us an added level of comfort. Over the course of the season, we've seen the turnovers go down, his scoring and assist go up, and he's taken better care of the basketball and we've got confidence with the ball in his hands."

The Barons were able to completely take over the game down the home stretch, which led to a great celebration afterward.

"It was pretty awesome because we have a lot of seniors on the team that, in the past, haven't won as much," Matthews said. "Coach Rip and all of the other coaches, to get a win like that under their belt, it's pretty great. A good time to be with the team."

Unfortunately, the Barons' excellent season came to an end on Monday with a loss to Augusta Christian. Matthews is excited to get back to work in the offseason to continue to elevate his game in his senior season.

"Kinda the same mentality we had this year. We've got to be dogs, and we've got to have that grit that teams are beating us with and multiplying that by a thousand," he said. "Just working on our craft, our shots, our defense, how we think about the game, but our mentality is probably the most important because we have the facilities to be the best out there."

Ripley has no doubt that Matthews will put in the work to be an even better player next season.

"I know he's working. We actually talked today about some AAU options to improve his game," Ripley said. "He'll be a gym rat; he'll either be here or at the Y working on his game with trainers and things like that. He's not one I have to worry about with his preparation and his dedication to the sport. He loves basketball. He wants to be good at it. He shows that with not only what he says, but what he does."