FLORENCE, S.C. — Lexington’s bid for a return to the state final came down to the free-throw line.
The Wildcats picked up 12 of their 14 fourth-quarter points from the line to protect their lead and defeat Aiken 44-36 on Friday night at the Florence Civic Center.
Lexington advances to the Class AAAA state championship game against Gaffney on March 2.
“The free throws late were big, and we’ve been a pretty good free throw shooting team,” Lexington coach Bailey Harris said.
“It’s frustrating for a player when you’re out there and the other team keeps going to the line and you can’t defend a free throw,” Aiken coach Tony Harrell said.
“Credit to them for making their free throws; that’s what made the difference.”
Filling in at point guard for an injured Joby Glymph, senior Jack Edelson touched off a third-quarter rally with a 3-pointer to put Lexington up 18-11.
Shaq Roland, who had been quiet early on, posted nine points to extend the Lexington lead.
“They are such a strong offensive team and we knew we had to slow them down,” Harrell said. “Shaq Roland is a big part of that and we wanted to make sure we could get the ball out of his hands as much as possible and we did a good job of that at the beginning.”
Aiken’s Shawn Moore pumped in six points to help the Hornets keep pace.
Late in the third quarter, the Hornets were forced to sit Moore and top rebounder Dramel Coleman, both of whom had four fouls. But Aiken kept it close and trailed by six.
Both returned to the game with four minutes to play with Aiken trailing by five, and Coleman responded with a driving layup that cut the Wildcats’ lead to three with 3:51 to go.
But the Hornets would not get any closer.
“These guys had a remarkable season, they showed tremendous character and effort, they just came up a little short tonight,” Harrell said.
After suffering two regular-season losses to Lexington, the Hornets hoped to make the Wildcats feel the sting of revenge.
But Lexington had its own pressing motives entering its third consecutive state semifinal appearance.
The Wildcats, state runners-up during the 2009-10 season, missed last year’s final after a defeat at the hands of Ridge View in the Lower State final.