SMITHFIELD — The Neuse Charter boys basketball squad, in just its first year as a varsity program, hosted Princeton Friday night as the Cougars entertained their future fellow Carolina 1A conference foes.
The Cougars made quite the first impression.
A Ryne Woodard putback shot with three seconds left helped the Bulldogs escape Patricia Brady Harris Gymnasium with a hard fought 47-46 win over the upstart Cougars.
Neither team held more than a five-point advantage at any point during the contest and the pesky Cougars’ 7-2 run late in the fourth quarter put them ahead by a point with less than a minute to play.
It was Woodard who won possession of the ball for Princeton in the final moments when he deflected the Cougars’ inbound pass off of Jarrod Sealey with nine seconds left and the Bulldogs down 46-45.
The Bulldogs took advantage of the great defensive play and worked the ball to Alex Whitley on the baseline on the subsequent possession. Whitley’s shot caromed off the rim into the hands of Woodard who banked the go-head shot in with a few seconds to spare.
“Ryne’s so valuable defensively and he’s the most coachable kid I’ve ever had,” Princeton coach Jeff Davis said. “Luckily Ryne got the big offensive rebound.
“We’ll take the win tonight.”
After Princeton (6-7) deflected a Neuse Charter full court pass out of bounds underneath its own basket, the Cougars had one last chance to stun the Bulldogs.
Sealey inbounded the ball to fellow junior Jourdan Sanders who took the open shot from the wing only to have the potential game-winner go in-and-out leaving the Cougars on the wrong end of final score.
“We’ve got to learn how to win,” Neuse Charter coach Jimmie Sanders said of his team. “They played with a lot of poise tonight. We’re getting some bumps and bruises but those bruises will prepare us to learn how to win.”
Sanders, Sealey and freshman Devonte’ Stevens frustrated the Bulldogs all night long and kept Neuse Charter very much in the game. Sealey’s 17 points led the Cougars’ charge while Stevens added 14 points of his own and Sanders contributed seven points.
Princeton’s Michael Wooten’s nine first-quarter points staked the Bulldogs to an early 13-8 lead but Princeton was never able to put any distance between itself and the Cougars as the Neuse Charter defense contested every shot and forced the Bulldogs into numerous turnovers.
“You learn lessons when you lose sometimes but I hope we get lucky and learn a lesson from this win,” added a relieved Davis. “Luckily we pulled it out tonight.
“Hopefully we learned a lesson.”
Wooten led the Bulldogs with 12 points while Whitley and Woodard both ended the night with 10 points.
The Cougars (6-8), who will join Princeton next season in the Carolina 1A Conference, hope to use this year as a stepping stone to help them hit the ground running next year.
“We hope to crash the party, so to speak, for the next several years,” said Sanders. “The guys know this is a foundation building year. It’s going to be an exciting time in the future for Neuse Charter.”