Cleveland’s basketball team got its running game back into high gear Tuesday and took a big step toward claiming the Two Rivers 3A regular-season championship.
The Rams rolled to an 86-60 victory over second-place Erwin Triton to move to 6-1 in the league, two games ahead of Triton and South Johnston, who are tied for second with 4-3 league records. Each team has three conference games remaining.
“Our offense comes off turnovers and trying to get it in the open court,” Cleveland coach John Jacobs said. “I thought we did a good job tonight. When they break that initial trap if we’ll sprint back we can still make things happen (on defense).
“We did that much better tonight than we have been doing.”
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It was a return to form for the Rams, Jacobs said.
“That was one of our better games,” Jacobs said. “I think that has been missing for about two or three games. It seemed like we were standing around, not really forcing the issue. We kind of got back into the swing tonight, I think.”
Jacobs has a deep team. And he substituted liberally Tuesday so his starters could catch their breath and go back in a run some more.
“I’ve got 10 or 11 guys that I feel confident playing,” Jacobs said. “I keep telling them, ‘You can’t rest. You’ve got to go, go, go.’ ”
The Rams (18-3 overall and No. 10 in The News & Observer rankings) followed those instructions.
Cleveland pulled away from an 11-11 tie, scoring the final 15 points of the first period to lead 26-11 at the end of the quarter. The gap just kept widening — Cleveland was up 44-25 at halftime, 66-40 at the end of three quarters and Cleveland won by that same margin after being up as many as 35 points in the fourth period.
Bobby Stenborg, a 6-foot-4 senior forward who was the league player of the year as a junior, led Cleveland with 26 points. Isaiah Barnes had 20, Jeff David 14 and Donovan Wright 12.
“It’s a lot of fun when the team scores a lot of points and we play like that,” Stenborg said of the fast-paced game. “That’s our game plan from the beginning, is to get the game going fast.
“When the game is at our tempo we like that.”
Stenborg scored on fast breaks, from the outside and on drives to the basket, displaying an uncanny knack for putting the ball on the glass and getting it to spin into the bucket.
Stenborg and Barnes took turns igniting scoring spurts for the Rams. The senior pair combined for 16 straight Rams points to start the third period – with each getting eight points in the run.
In the fourth period, Stenborg started the quarter by scoring seven of nine Rams points. He converted a 4-point play when he was fouled while making a 3-pointer from corner and sank the free throw.
It was that kind of night for the Rams. And that kind of nightmare for the Hawks (8-11, 4-3).
“I was very disappointed in our effort,” Triton coach T.J. Morrison said. “You have a chance to beat a team that is in first place and get back into a tie for first place. What a challenge. And a kid like Bobby (Stenborg) is a 20 points a game plus player and the player of the year in the conference. I think a ball player steps up and accepts that challenge and we didn’t.
“Don’t get me wrong. Cleveland played a great game, they played really well and we were probably never really in the game. But I just don’t think we competed. And that is disappointing.”
Triton was led by Raynor Weaver with 15 points and Isaiah Bryant with 10.