AIKEN - Marcel Harley said he wasn't worried Tuesday night.
Aiken's senior guard saw his top-ranked team struggle for two quarters against North Augusta. The Hornets missed 17 of their first 25 shots. They had eight turnovers and only a 21-18 lead at the half.
"North Augusta was playing well," Harley said. "and maybe we weren't on fire or anything. we saw a lot of shots fall off the rim that usually go down for us."
Then he broke out a super-sized grin. the berth of that smile was big because of the way the Hornets finished off their county rival in a 62-45 win. Aiken went on a 13-2 run in the fourth quarter to turn a 40-34 game into a commanding 18-point lead.
"In the end we know what we can do," Harley said, who finished with a game-best 19 points. "I love it when we get tested. crunch time comes and we have to know we can respond. we turned up the offense and defense and never had to look back."
Aiken (17-1, 4-0 in Region IV-AAA) made seven of 10 shots in the third quarter to race out to a 38-27 lead after three quarters. Those hot hands never settled down. The Hornets started out the fourth quarter by making six of their first seven shots, including three in a row from three-point territory.
"See that right there is what we are capable of," harley said. "That is what we do when we are on."
North Augusta had a proud effort through the first 20 minutes. the Yellow Jackets (12-5, 3-1) forced 13 turnovers and kept Aiken away from the up-tempo style it prefers.
"That's how good that Aiken team is," North Augusta coach Al Long said. "They have seniors and a lot of experience and it showed. They came at us and ran away with it in the blink of an eye. Whatever it is that needs to be done to win a basketball game, that team is capable of doing it."
Harley made seven of his 12 shots. He also added seven rebounds and three steals. Darien Crawford added 12. Demarcus Sullivan finished with 10 points. Xavian Robinson missed 13 of 16 shots but still ripped down 12 rebounds and pitched in three steals.
"North Augusta was very athletic," Aiken coach Thomas Ryan said. "They came in tonight unbeaten in our league and really gave us some problems we had to adjust to before we started knocking down the shots we had been making all year. give them credit. they rattled us a bit tonight."
Ryan said his team will amp up the practice work to get ready for South Aiken on Friday. He's doing everything he can to keep his surging team grounded.
"We should be playing pretty well," Ryan said. "any final four team that returns all five of its starters back for another season should be doing some pretty good things right now."
North Augusta was led by Brett Johnson's nine points. Ronald Sims added nine rebounds.
Aiken's girls varsity put a tremendous clamp on North Augusta to begin the night. The Lady Jackets only managed two field goals in the second half and still pulled out a 40-29 win.
North Augusta (16-2, 4-0 in Region IV-AAAA) managed only seven points in the first 12 minutes of the second half but still held the lead. Aiken (6-10, 1-3 in region) expended a lot of its energy extending out its pressure on the defensive end and could never match that high level of execution when it had the ball.
Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or email@example.com.