After thrashing Marlboro County by twenty points in their December 5 meeting, the Falcons had to figure Tuesday night's trip to the Dawg House would be a similar cake walk.
They were in for a rude awakening as the Bulldogs continued to build on their Christmas tournament success for a 40-38 win over the top-ten ranked Falcons.
"I'm just so proud of my team. We have begun to work together and play as a team instead of a group of individuals. We are a completely different team than when we faced Darlington before," said first year head coach LaTroy Brace.
The biggest improvement for the Bulldogs is on the defensive end of the court. Where Darlington poured in 82 points before, the Falcons struggled against the determined Marlboro defense.
In the games' final minutes, the Bulldogs outscored their guests 6 to 1, to provide Brace with his first homecourt victory.
The teams entered the final quarter tied but the Falcons' Jamean Muldrow swished his second three-pointer of the game to give Darlington a 37-34 advantage.
Rather than wilting as they had earlier in the season, the Bulldogs clamped down on the Falcons' offense. Darlington would hit one free throw in the final 5:20 of the game.
Ryan Dupree hit a free throw and QuanDaveon McCollough scored under the basket to tie the game.
Marlboro was called for a technical foul after a questionable traveling call wiped out a go-ahead basket for the Bulldogs.
After the Falcons made one of two shots, they led 38-37 with 1:27 to play.
A steal by Rictavius McInnis resulted in a layup by Damien Bruce to give the Bulldogs the lead.
Again the Bulldogs forced a turnover and held the ball until a foul with 25 seconds to play. Wesley Brown hit one of two free throws to boost the lead to two points.
Darlington attempted a three-pointer in the final seconds but McCollough blocked the attempt to seal the victory.
McCollough finished with 17 points to lead the team. Wesley Brown had 7, Bruce 6, McInnis 3, Dupree 3, Jamiek McCoy 3 and Keshaad Hicks 1.
"Coming from 0 and 9 to win four straight shows a great deal about perseverance of our young men. I'm just so proud of how they played," said Brace.
With the win, the Bulldogs will open region play Friday with a road trip to North Myrtle Beach (3-6).
Lady Bulldogs rusty
The Lady Bulldogs had a frustrating first game of 2018, finding a lid on the basket in the fourth quarter.
Darlington held off the Bulldogs for a 38-30 win.
"We were obviously rusty. We haven't played since December 18 and it showed," said head coach Leah Zimmerman.
"The girls were tired and it affected our shooting after a fast start. They played hard, battled on defense but just couldn't score in the fourth quarter," she said.
The Lady Bulldogs scored half of their points in the first quarter but trailed 16-15 at the end of the period.
Both teams struggled offensively from that point on. Marlboro trailed by four at the half and could never generate enough offense to threaten the Falcons.
The Bulldogs entered the fourth down by five but only got a short jump shot by Jaylah McCormick and a layup by Briana Bridges in the quarter.
Kennedy Ashwood led the Lady Bulldogs with 11 points. McCormick added 6, Jasmine Norman 4, Shaniya Oliver 3, Briana Bridges 2, Ashley Bridges 2 and Brianna Oxendine 2.
"We will have to play much better from this point on. The region has three really talented teams, so we will have our work cut out for us," said Zimmerman.
They will start that challenge by traveling to North Myrtle Beach (13-1) Friday night. Myrtle Beach (11-3) and Wilson (10-1) will also be tough match-ups for the Lady Bulldogs.