It was a vastly different Hardeeville (S.C.) team Jason Keeler’s South Effingham boys basketball team faced Tuesday night.
When the two teams met Nov. 27, the Hurricanes were missing five players who suited up against the Mustangs in their return match. But the Mustangs, after losing a double-digit lead, rallied to beat Hardeeville 47-40.
“I still feel like we didn’t play well,” Keeler said. “But like Bear Bryant said, ‘There’s no substitute for guts.’ I told the guys at halftime, ‘They can smell it. There’s blood in the water. They feel they can win this game. You have to come out and play harder.’ My kids responded well.”
The Mustangs (4-6) led 19-7 early in the second quarter before the Hurricanes cut the gap to five points at the half. The teams entered the fourth quarter knotted at 32-32, and Hardeeville went up by a bucket before the Mustangs ran off 10 unanswered points to take control.
“We gutted it out,” Keeler said. “We were able to withstand a run. I was happy with our gutcheck. We were on the road in a tight game and held our composure.”
He had four freshmen on the floor for nearly two and a half minutes in a key stretch and was happy with how they handled the situation.
Keeler’s kids will face a man-sized challenge at the Swamp Shootout at Ware County High School beginning tonight.
The Mustangs open the tourney with Class AAAA power Ware County, the host of the event.
“I’m looking for us to go and find ourselves out of our comfort zone,” Keeler said. “We’ve had a lot of home games and our away games haven’t been hostile. Now we get to play a good AAAA team at their place and in their tournament.”