SMC puts finishing touch on perfect 30-0 regular season

In the old days of journalism, not so very long ago, when newspaper stories were opened with a turn of a page instead of a click of a mouse, reporters used to put “- 30 -” at the bottom of their final typed pages, signaling to editors that it was the end of the piece.

This is a story that also has a 30 at the end.

But it may also be just the beginning.

Spartanburg Methodist basketball finished its regular season Wednesday night with 30 wins and not a single loss. The No. 1-ranked Pioneers accomplished the amazing feat, only undefeated record in the country and in school history, with an 84-45 win against the Limestone junior varsity squad in a jam-packed Bridges Arena.

Students and fans squeezed into the gymnasium for this final game of the regular season. There were a few spaces in the bleachers at tip-off, but those quickly filled in. It was standing room only, shoulder-to-shoulder, on the balconies wrapped around the rest of the outside rim.

They didn’t come to see a close game.

“No, that’s not why they came,” said SMC guard Ben Johnson, who was gobbling up the icing on an end-of-regular-season cupcake.

(Take that as a metaphor, if you wish.)

These people came to party.

And what a party.

SMC had long since wrapped up the Region 10 regular-season championship and with it a return trip to Hutchinson, Kan., for the NJCAA national tournament, the Pioneers’ second straight berth after a 13-year absence. They survived their last real test Saturday afternoon with an overtime win against Denmark Tech.

This regular-season finale was supposed to be easy.

And it was.

Yet, the fans cheered wildly from the opening tip to final buzzer.

“They came to witness history,” SMC head coach Jeff Brookman said. “They came to cheer on the guys for what they have done the entire season. They were into this game for 40 minutes.”

Limestone varsity head coach Brandon Scott, whose team has a chance to finish as the No. 1 seed of the Division II Conference Carolinas tournament, sat behind the bench with his small children and watched his top assistant, former Saints standout player Marquintus Jones, guide the JV team.

Did Scott even consider the possibility of moving some of his more inactive varsity players down to get some work before the tournament?

“Absolutely not,” Scott said.

So he watched the Pioneers, even the last players on the bench, expectedly dismantle the overmatched JV team. Scott was scouting talent as much as evaluating his assistant coach. Limestone has been a popular landing spot for SMC players, including John Prioleau, who is now an assistant coach for the Pioneers.

SMC, meanwhile, enjoyed every second of this stress-free game.

Jalen Nesbitt (Chapman High School) was called for a technical foul after hanging on the rim after a dunk.

Totally worth it, the crowd decided.

Nesbitt smiled, as did seemingly everyone else in the arena – maybe even Scott, who should love to have Nesbitt – as Limestone took the free throws, down by 30.

A little later, after the SMC bench had emptied, one of the Pioneers launched a 25-foot shot with no defensive pressure and plenty of time on the shot clock. Teammates on the bench laughed and looked over at Brookman, who gave the shooter a what-the-heck shrug of the shoulders.

That was it. No big deal.

Really, why spoil the party?

“How could you not enjoy the ride that we’ve been on?” Brookman said. “It’s been special. And fortunately enough, it’s not over.”

By Todd Shanesy