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Byrnes Falls To Lexington In 5A Final

It has been stated this season that the James F Byrnes Runnin’ Rebels were one of the best teams in the state. The emphasis has to be placed on the “one of” because as great of a season they had – entering Friday night’s 5A state championship game with a 26-4 overall record and having rattled off 15 consecutive wins since their last loss back on December 30th – this team crossed paths with one of the few that were better. 


The Rebels averaged 73 points per game and just shy of 30 rebounds per game, led by the duo of Senior Point Guards Will Fowler (18.4 ppg) and Kayzzin McDowell (12.7 ppg). They also featured a lot of speed, thriving most on getting turnovers and big three pointers in transition. But for all the talent they had up and down the board and the team chemistry that has been so solid this season, that is no guarantee that they could just cruise their way to a state title. They would face their toughest test of the season by far – the Lexington Wildcats. 


Lexington was 27-2 coming into the night, having won 16 straight in the process. They averaged 75.3 points per game and featured a roster loaded with the one thing Byrnes lacked – experience. The Wildcats had nothing but juniors and seniors playing for them this year – most notably Cameron Scott, the Senior Guard that is committed to Texas. On the other hand, Byrnes had a freshman, albeit a talented one, starting on the biggest stage, which honestly showed. Lexington also has a lot more size. Four of their key contributors are over 6 feet tall. While size isn’t everything, pair it with discipline from experience and you have a team that most would argue is the better of the 2 despite their similar stats. 


Make no mistake about it, Lexington was the better team, and in order to bring home the hardware, the Rebels were going to have to play a perfect game plus have a lot of things bounce their way. Sadly, it was not meant to be as Lexington controlled the game from the jump. 


Both teams got off to a slow start, taking nearly 2 minutes to each get their first points of the game. By the time they reached the first media timeout, it was a 4-4 deadlock with the game’s biggest story line for Byrnes already brewing. Byrnes went 2-9 from the field in the first 4 minutes, with Will Fowler logging all of their points. Lexington was 1 for 9, but drained a couple of free throws that were the difference at the time. 


 A few minutes later, the Rebels took their lone lead of the day on a Jamari Cullen layup that made it 10-8 as the clock went under a minute to play in the 1st quarter. It was short-lived as Lexington answered to send it to the break with an 11-10 lead. It all went downhill quickly from there. 


The Wildcats opened the 2nd stanza on an 8-0 run that upped their lead to 19-10. They raised the stakes a little higher by pushing to a double digit lead as the half slipped into its waning moments. At the intermission, Lexington led 29-22. 


So, what was the storyline for Byrnes? Will Fowler. At the half, the Rebels were an abysmal 9 for 31 from the field and he had 20 of their 22 points. That stat line didn’t get much better. 


The story of the 2nd half can be summed up as deja vu. The Rebs were 9 for 28 shooting from the field in the final 16 minutes, and Will Fowler would end up leading the team with 26 points. Overall, they were 18-59 from the floor (30.5%), and Fowler by himself was 11 for 19. The rest of the team combined was a dismal 7 for 40 shooting. 


“He was putting up quite a fight, and was maybe out of gas at the end of it. Will wanted to prove that he’s one of the best players in the state. I think he proved it tonight. He wanted to prove it in a win. So I feel for him right there. I feel for all our guys. But Will was on that floor lot. He was battling and at the end, he was still wanting to make plays. Eventually fatigue just took its toll”, said Byrnes Head Coach Layne Fowler of his son’s effort. 


So what was it that doomed the Rebels? In part, you could look at the fact that a team that relies a ton on the three pointer was just 5 for 30 from beyond the arch. You could also circle the massive gap between Will Fowler and the team’s 2nd leading scorer (Kayzzin McDowell, 8 points). But at the end of the day, what really happened is that the better team did what they were supposed to and the Rebels did not play the game they needed to. You have to give a ton of credit to the Lexington Wildcats, who cruised to a 67-48 victory. 


“Lexington is a really good basketball team. There’s a reason they’re 28-2. There’s a reason they’re state champions of 5A basketball in South Carolina. It’s just disappointing because you know how hard your kids worked and everything they’ve put into it and we just didn’t play our best basketball”, said Fowler. 


The Rebels ended a historic season with plenty to still be proud of, running the table all the way to their first state championship appearance since 2016, capping it with a 26-5 record as the state runner up. Losing a state championship game where they were outmatched doesn’t change that they were the best team in the Upstate – a positive that Layne Fowler will gladly hang his hat on. 


“We had a phenomenal season. One of the best seasons in Byrnes history. We were one of two teams that were playing for a state championship. I thought we did all the things that are necessary to be a good team. I thought we sacrificed, I thought we were tough and gritty. I thought we were unselfish all year and connected both on and off the court. All those things are recipes for a good team.”

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