In the fall of 2017 when the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s next round of conference realignment takes effect, Clayton and South Johnston will find themselves in the same conference.
On Tuesday night, the two squads had to settle for just being Johnston County rivals but the pair of non-conference battles painted a picture of what the next few years could look like.
In the boys game, the Trojans overcame a slow start to grab the 50-41 win over the Comets, South Johnston’s first win over Clayton since 2005 as the Trojans broke a string of 12 consecutive defeats at the hands of their county foes.
Javonte Smith paced South Johnston with 22 points including eight points down the stretch to secure the victory.
In the girls game, the Comets scored the contest’s first 12 points and never looked back in a convincing 69-33 triumph as Asia Todd turned in a complete all-round performance to lead the Comets with 28 points to move Clayton to 5-0 to start the season.
Trailing for much of the first half, South Johnston (1-1) stayed within striking distance of Clayton and picked up the intensity on the defensive end in the final two quarters to come back to drop the Comets to 2-3 on the season.
With both teams having just had one practice with their full roster due to football playoffs in the beginning stages of the season, it was the experienced Trojans who executed down the stretch to get the win.
“We’ve got eight seniors and they looked battle-tested,” said South Johnston coach Brody Massengill. “When we needed them to run offense at the end of the game, they did.”
Clayton got to within four points at 43-39 with just under two minutes left on a Devin Carter foul shot but Smith knocked down a free throw of his own, added a basket and DeParis Patterson’s layup with one minute remaining stretched the lead back to 10 points.
Smith added seven rebounds to go with his team-high 22 points. Patterson added 10 and Sauyer Roberts pitched in with seven.
“It means a lot to us,” Smith said of the win. “Coach told us it was going to be a dog fight and that we had to fight for it and that we just had to stay in it.”
Clayton got off to a quick start in taking a 13-3 lead in the first quarter thanks to dribble penetration and hitting shots from the outside. The Comets were 4-of-9 from three-point range in the first half but didn’t make another 3 the rest of the way.
After scoring 17 points in the first quarter, Clayton was held to 24 points over the final three periods.
“Right now, we’re just not playing good basketball,” veteran Clayton coach Denny Medlin said. “We’re not executing anything. We haven’t put the ball in the goal and it’s because we’re not running our offense.”
Kenny Anderson led the Comets with 14 points and Macaleb Robertson went for 11.
Clayton coach Marlon Lee knew what his team needed to do in order to notch the Comets’ 12th win in 13 tries against South Johnston.
“The name of the game was to get steals and deflections,” said Lee. “The key coming in against this team was to dictate the pace; we knew we had to use our advantage to get what we wanted.”
Clayton followed the script perfectly early on using its defense to turn the Trojans over and converting those turnovers into points. The Comets’ backcourt duo of Todd and Janasia Cannon caused South Johnston fits trying to get the ball up the court. The pair combined to score the game’s first 12 points in just three minutes’ time and Clayton’s first 18 points of the game.
The Comets scored 20 points directly off of the Trojans’ turnovers and Cannon and Todd feasted on easy layups all game. Todd led the way with 28 points and Cannon adding 15 points.
Todd hit her first five 3-point attempts to help stretch the lead quickly to 22 by halftime.
Outside shooting also came from Jordan Clement, Sam Henniger and Latyra Williams as the Comets were 9 of 16 from behind the arc.
Lee knows that being able to stretch defenses down the road with the perimeter game will be key to Clayton building on its hot start to the season.
“Especially when a team is playing zone, I told the girls we’ve got to have (outside shooting),” Lee said. “We know the competition that we’re going to play against in our conference. Overall it was a good effort but we’ve got to get better.”
South Johnston (0-2) was led by Alexis Edwards, who scored 10 points and Lizzie Raynor who finished with seven. Emma Jernigan pulled in eight rebounds.