CLAYTON — All Cleveland wanted was a win over South Johnston.
All the Trojans wanted was a win, period.
Despite clutching a one-point halftime lead, South Johnston fell short in its bid to shut the door on a winless season Friday, falling 52-42 to the host Rams in an Eastern Carolina 3A Conference clash.
The win was the first by Cleveland against South Johnston.
The Trojans had won all four previous meetings dating back to 2010, Cleveland’s first year of basketball participation.
“Real good for the seniors,” Cleveland coach John Jacobs said. “They’re buying in and listening and coming together as a team and it showed tonight.”
After a back-and-forth first half, South Johnston (0-11 overall, 0-4 conference) clung to a 24-23 halftime lead, but was caught flat-footed to open the third quarter as the Rams quickly pieced together a 9-0 run.
“We talked about wanting to jump on them and play them hard for the first four or five minutes of the third quarter and just let them know that we’re going to be here to play the whole game,” Jacobs said.
Bobby Stenborg matched a season-high with 21 points to pace the Rams, who picked up their first conference win in improving to (4-11, 1-3). The Trojans were able to trim the deficit to three points late in the third quarter, but Stenborg nailed a 3-pointer to extend the lead back to six and South Johnston never got any closer.
With a six-point cushion to start the fourth quarter, Cleveland played a game of ball control and eventually forced South Johnston to foul. The Rams didn’t make a field goal in the final period, instead settling for a 10-for-12 effort at the foul line to keep the Trojans at bay. The Rams shook three minutes off the clock on one possession while leading 44-38.
“I didn’t have a problem with (the clock) going down to three (minutes),” Trojan coach David Dewey said. “That’s two possessions and we had both those possessions we just didn’t score. We had the opportunities.”
South Johnston sprung to a 9-2 lead to start the game only to watch Cleveland respond by scoring 13 unanswered points.
“We just turned it over way too much,” Dewey said. “We ended the game with turnovers after we made good plays. So we never really gave ourselves that chance to make the comeback.”
Brett Clifton scored 14 points to lead the Trojans, who will get another crack at Cleveland on Feb. 5 at home.
“I told them that we’ve got three wins and they have none so both teams think they can win so both teams are going to play really hard,” Jacobs said. “This is what we expected it to be. I told them it was probably going to come right down to the wire.”