Strip away the emotion that packed Friday’s rivalry clash between Landrum and Polk County, and a simple stat proved the separating factor between the Cardinals and Wolverines.
Landrum shot and made a lot of them, Polk County fewer of each, and those foul shots helped give the Cardinals the upper hand in a 72-71 non-conference victory before a near-capacity crowd at Polk.
A tense first half that at one point had officials and coaches on the floor keeping players apart and included a handful of technicals settled into a competitive second half that saw neither team ever lead by more than five points.
Ultimately, though, Landrum (2-0) won the game at the foul line, going 16-for-21 at the stripe in the second half. The Cardinals finished 30-for-43 at the foul line in the game, with Turner Ussery seemingly at the line on every possession. Ussery hit 19-for-24 free throws in the game, 11-of-14 in the second half, and finished with a game-high 25 points.
Polk County (0-3), meanwhile, finished 17-of-27 at the line for the game, but the Wolverines were 4-of-13 in the fourth quarter, crucial misses that helped Landrum take control in the final minutes.
But for a Wolverine team that suffered a 37-point loss on Wednesday to R-S Central, a one-point loss to a Landrum team ranked eighth in the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association 2A state preseason poll made a statement.
“We had to fix some issues,” said Polk County head coach Antoni Staley. “But we’re on the up and up. To finish down one point to a team that beat us by 30 points last year and didn’t lose anybody, that says a lot.”
Polk County clung to a 58-57 lead entering the final quarter, but Landrum grabbed a 62-60 lead with 6:09 left in the game on an Ussery basket and foul throw. Both Polk County leading scorer Clark Phipps and inside threat Markell Lipscomb fouled out in the first two minutes of the final period, adding to the Wolverines’ challenge.
The margin hovered between one and three points for much of the quarter before Polk County’s Jason Fox buried a 3-pointer in transition to tie the game at 67 with 47 seconds left.
Ussery answered with a pair of free throws to make it 69-67 with 34 seconds remaining before Polk’s Wilson Edwards hit 1-of-2 foul shots with 17 seconds left. Ussery responded with two more free throws to up the lead to 71-68 with 15 seconds left.
Fox was then just short on a long 3-point attempt, and Ussery added a free throw with five seconds remaining to make it 72-68. Polk’s Peyton Dill hit a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to account for the final margin.
“We moved the ball well,” Staley said. “We weren’t standing around. I told them we had to get the ball moving around and everything would work much better.”
Phipps scored 18 points to lead Polk County, with Dill adding 11. Amir Gary and Jaylon Bontrager each scored nine, with Fox and Lipscomb adding eight. Seth Hardin finished with five, with Elijah Sutton scoring two and Edwards adding one.
Trey Smith finished with 20 points and Jadon Lane had 15 points for Landrum.
Polk County is back in action on Tuesday, hosting Highland Tech (2-3).
“Thank everybody for supporting us. We’ve had good crowds the first two games,” Staley said. “Keep coming. We’re working hard.”