Myrtle Beach threatened to earn its biggest win in the Beach Ball Classic in 30 years, and interject a shock into the tournament’s brackets Thursday night.
But Bishop O’Connell and star point guard Romelo Trimble managed to turn the Seahawks back, 73-66.
Myrtle Beach built a lead that reached 16 points early in the second half, but Bishop O’Connell, a Beach Ball finalist last year, stormed back to avoid the upset.
“Nobody expected us to be in the game, so I’m happy where we were at,” said Seahawks senior guard Solomon Cooper, who scored a game-high 27 points. “But we should have ended up winning it. It hurts because I’m a diehard basketball fan and I love basketball, and it hurts to give up one like that. We should have pulled it out.”
Trimble, a Maryland commitment who is considered one of the top point guards in the nation, set a Beach Ball free throw record and scored 17 of his 26 points in the second half to lead the Knights’ spirited comeback after a listless first half in which they turned the ball over 14 times in 16 minutes.
Many of the turnovers were self-induced, including double dribble and traveling miscues.
“I didn’t think we were competing at a particularly high level, but they had something to do with that, so you have to give them credit,” Knights coach Joe Wootten said. “Then I thought our press got us going a little bit. We were a little bit more aggressive and we went small, and I think that was very effective for us. But I take my hat off to them. They are well-coached, they play hard, and they execute.”
Trimble made all 15 of his free throw attempts to break Danny Ferry’s tournament record for most made free throws without a miss, which Ferry set in 1984 with 13 straight. Trimble came two free throws from tying the tournament record for most free throws made in a game.
And he earned the trips to the line with aggressive play, as many of his other points came on drives to the basket. As a team, Bishop O’Connell set a Beach Ball record for free throw percentage by making 30 of 31 for 96.8 percent.
Myrtle Beach has won 13 Beach Ball Classic games since it began playing in 1981, but many of those came in loser’s bracket games. The Seahawks hadn’t won an opening-round game since 1983, when it won two games in the then eight-team tournament and lost by two points to Archbishop Molloy in the championship game.
Myrtle Beach took a 35-26 lead into halftime and pushed the advantage to 16 points just three minutes into the second half, as the Seahawks opened the second stanza with an 11-4 run.
Myrtle Beach built its lead with solid, pressuring man-to-man defense and a patient and efficient offense that worked for quality shots.
“We’re a good team. We’ve been playing together for a long time,” Solomon said. “We just took a couple bad shots at a couple bad times when we should have moved the ball around and got layups.”
Cooper hit 10 of 19 shots from the field and all five of his free throws to tally his 27 points, and senior Brooks Swanson added 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field.
After Bishop O’Connell, the reigning champions of the powerful Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, tied the game at 51 following a 23-7 run, Cooper gave the Seahawks a 55-51 lead with a short jumper and banked-in long jumper with seven minutes remaining.
But O’Connell was only temporarily deterred and took a lead on baskets by Jerry Carter and Trimble, and a pair of free throws by Ako Adams, and it never relinquished the lead, though the Seahawks kept the pressure on until the final buzzer.
“It’s like March Madness: you survive and advance,” Wootten said. “… You’ve got to survive and then focus on the next opponent. That’s the nature of being in a tournament, and everybody here is good.”
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.