The last time East Memorial Christian Academy played Restoration Academy it was not a pretty sight.
The Wildcats (21-10) were still going through the process of rebuilding a boys state championship team that had lost all but two starters.
The inexperience was showing all over the court.
“We played them the very first game coming back from Christmas break,” East Memorial coach Brad Porter said. “We played pretty well the first half and were only down nine at halftime, but they kicked it in high gear in the second half and ended up beating us by 25.”
Now Porter feels as if his team is a totally different team than the one that took the court in January, and feels confident about his team’s chances heading into the rematch with Restoration (28-6) in the boys Class AA AISA state championship at noon today at Huntingdon College.
“Since we last played them we’re on a 13-game winning streak, so we’ve found our rhythm and have hit our peak,” Porter said. “Hopefully, we are still on our peak going into (today).”
The Wildcats are coming off a 76-42 win against Pickens Academy in the semifinals where Claude Gilder scored 18 points, and Malik Pettus added 17.
Because of delays from last week’s winter weather, the title game was moved to this week.
Gilder said the extra time will help he and his teammates get ready for a tough team in Restoration.
“We looked at it that rest is sometimes the best option,” Gilder said. “But we got right back in the gym on Friday, Sunday and Monday. So it was a break, but it was also a chance to work on our game for Tuesday and to perfect what we do.”
Led by a 29-point effort from Marquis Grays, Restoration fought through a slow start to beat Crenshaw Christian 77-59 to advance to the championship game.
Porter said the biggest strength for the Bulldogs is their speed getting up and down the court.
“Restoration is extremely fast team with the basketball,” Porter said. “When the ball goes through the hoop, it’s already at half-court before you can blink your eye.”
East Memorial controlling the tempo will be a big factor in the outcome of the game.
“We have to go out and be able to handle pressure because it’s all about pressure when you’re playing them,” Gilder said. “If we can go out and handle pressure and make them play our game, then it’s going to be a good game. But we can’t get caught up in trying to play their type of basketball. We’ve got to play our own game.”
After the convincing victory by Restoration earlier in the season, many are considering East Memorial as the underdogs, but Gilder said that doesn’t bother him and his teammates.
“I feel great about the game,” Gilder said. “We are just going to go out there and play basketball.”
Now heading into the final game of the year, Porter is able to look back and see the growth of his team, which only had two practices before they played their first game, and what it would mean to him to win the state championship in his first season as the head coach.
“It would definitely be special, but for me I’m more proud of the how the guys have come together on this team,” Porter said. “We had individuals on this team, and they have bought into the team concept, and playing for the team rather than for themselves. Win lose or draw, they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to and that’s what’s special to me. A championship would be just a cherry on top, and a pretty sweet end to the season.”