High School Sports

How Conway erased years of playoff futility with a first round win over River Bluff

Conway center Jimmy Nichols (11) scores on a dunk during fourth quarter action against River Bluff during Wednesday’s Class 5A first round game.
Conway center Jimmy Nichols (11) scores on a dunk during fourth quarter action against River Bluff during Wednesday’s Class 5A first round game. Randall Hill/For The Sun News

This has been so long coming that Conway players and coaches weren’t even sure how to celebrate.

Was it appropriate to go nuts after finally winning in the playoffs? Or would it be more kosher to act like they had been there?

Only one thing was clear: After losing so many consecutive playoff games – or worse, missing the playoffs altogether – the Tiger basketball squad finally got to think about how it should show its emotions after a postseason win.

Conway defeated River Bluff 62-49 at home Wednesday in the opening round of the state playoffs, earning its first playoff victory since the 1993-1994 squad won two games. Since then, Conway had lost each of its previous eight playoff games, including three embarrassing first-round losses at home.

This time, the story was different.

“I wasn’t even born,” senior Jaylen Moody said, referring to the last time his predecessors found themselves on the right side of a playoff game. “It’s a big thing. We haven’t won in a while. We’ve been looking forward to making history. We’re just trying to break the curse. We’re proud to break it.”

Moody played a huge role in that. One week after signing to play football at Alabama, he dropped 21 points. He also had five assists, including two huge ones during a fourth-quarter spurt that helped Conway go from a three-point advantage to a double-digit margin.

After a steal near mid-court with six-plus minutes to go, he made his way up court and laid the ball off the glass to Jimmy Nichols, who slammed it home to complete the highlight. Moments later, after another Moody steal, he found Juwan Moody streaking toward the basket for a wide-open layup that gave the football brothers and their teammates a two-touchdown lead.

Nichols, who has signed with Providence, led all scorers with 23 points, but he deferred most of the credit for ending the playoff drought to Jaylen Moody.

“You should see him in practice. He’s the best player on the team,” Nichols said. “If you see Jaylen, you know he can play.”

The duo needed little other scoring help to outproduce River Bluff, with only three additional players – Juwan Moody, Tonka Hemingway and Tylehk Cooper – finishing with any points at all. However, 62 points was more than enough to end the 24-year drought, allowing Conway to finally make good on a strong regular season showing.

Conway was ranked as high as No. 2 in the S.C. Basketball Coaches Association’s Class 5A poll and finished second to only Sumter in Region VI-5A, earning home-court advantage for at least two rounds.

Still, coach Michael Hopkins knew nothing on this floor had been given before, especially come playoff time.

The three home playoff losses included a 24-point blowout to West Ashley in 2011, a one-point defeat to Aiken in 2013 – in which Conway led by eight points midway though the fourth quarter – and last year’s loss against Dutch Fork.

Throw in opening-round losses in 2000, 2001, 2006, 2015 and 2016, and it was fair to say this school’s playoff fate – when there was a postseason at all – was downright depressing when packaged as a whole.

And it’s not like Conway has been completely devoid of talent. Tim Jennings (graduated in 2001) and Reggie Bonner (2013), along with Jalen Hennigan and Christian Jeffords (2015), earned numerous honors – be it All-Region Player of the Year, All-State and/or All-Star. All four went on to play collegiately.

But what none of them and scores of others couldn’t team up to make happen was get that elusive postseason victory. Conway had been one of just three Horry County programs in the last decade that had failed to record a postseason win.

The Tigers took their names off that list Wednesday, and they’ve started preparing to face Summerville at home Saturday.

“I get to coach another game. I’ve told the kids, everything we’ve done this far is to get us ready for this one game. We’ve taken care of business to move us to the next round,” said Hopkins, who took over the program in 2004, a decade after the streak began. “They might have heard it. But they didn’t think about it. That’s it. Why not us? Why not now? This bunch right here, we’ve got a core group that’s played a lot of basketball together.”

And for the first time in a long time, Conway players with get a second playoff game, too.

Related stories from Myrtle Beach Sun News