SMITHFIELD — Two nights after needing to erase a double-digit deficit before edging past its opening round opponent, the Neuse Charter boys basketball team looked every bit the No. 1 seed in the Mideast 1A bracket Wednesday night against Granville Central.
The Cougars (24-5) got off to a fast start in scoring the game’s first 11 points and cruised through to the third round with a dominant performance, a 73-36 win over the visiting Panthers.
Unlike its opener against Pender County, Neuse Charter was in complete control from the opening tip-off and outscored Granville Central 21-3 in the first quarter.
“We felt like we dodged a bullet in that first round game so all we really focused on yesterday at practice was trying to get off to a good start and protecting the basketball early,” Neuse Charter coach Jimmie Sanders Jr. said.
The Cougars’ backcourt (Darrin Robinson, Jimmie Sanders III and Jarrod Sealey) proved to be too quick for Granville Central and utilized dribble penetration and good passing to pick apart the Panthers (19-8).
Tre’shon Charles, Sanders III and Darrius Stevens paced Neuse Charter early. In all, six Cougars scored at least seven points on the triumphant evening with Darrius Stevens coming off the bench to lead the way with 15 points.
Sealey totaled 14 points and six rebounds, Devonte Stevens came through with a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds) and Byron Addison, Charles and Sanders III all finished with seven points each.
Not having just one or even two guys that an opposing defense can focus their attention on has been strength for the Cougars that started to take shape early in the season when many teams would play box-and-one or diamond defenses against Sanders III.
“A lot of teams we’ve faced really have had one or two high scorers but we’ve had a lot of games where we’ve had four or five players in double figures,” Sanders Jr. said. “I think early in the season, a lot of teams focused on Jimmie (Sanders III) and that’s when all the other guys started stepping up.”
Defensively, the Cougars keyed in on the Panthers’ two leading scorers, Jeremiah Green and Kaleb Hunter, who entered the matchup combining for over 40 points per game.
Thanks to Neuse Charter’s mission to keep the high-scoring pair out of the paint, the Green-Hunter duo finished with just 13 points between the two.
“We’re a good team defensive team,” Sanders Jr. said. “We talked about protecting the paint, not letting them get anything easy and to contest everything.”
Damien Humphrey led Granville Central with 12 points and nine rebounds.
The Cougars were scheduled to host Wallace-Rose Hill in the third round Friday night.