Cleveland swept to a pair of varsity basketball victories over Smithfield-Selma on Friday night, but the Rams’ wins were polar opposites.
The Cleveland boys needed a pair of free throws with 3.7 seconds left from Zach Jacobs to seal a 52-49 victory, their first in Two Rivers 3A Conference play after a pair of two-point losses.
“We did a lot of soul searching this week and had four good practices,” Cleveland coach John Jacobs said. “We did enough things at the end and made a couple of free throws and pulled one out. It feels better to pull one out than to be on the bad end.”
The Rams girls, ranked No. 11 in The News & Observer poll, overcame a slow start to roll to a 47-27 victory and remain unbeaten in conference play.
Cleveland led just 7-4 at the end of the first period, but was up 20-11 at halftime and extended the lead with a strong second half.
“We were a little sluggish early,” Cleveland coach Chris Danehower said. “Once we got it going and we got them to reverse the ball against the zone, it was a lot better.”
The Rams boys (6-11, 1-2) had dropped their first two conference games – by a bucket to Triton in overtime and 51-49 to South Johnston a week ago. But this time they made the plays down the stretch and handed Smithfield-Selma (10-6, 2-1) its first league loss.
The game was close throughout with Smithfield-Selma up 25-23 at halftime. Cleveland opened up a 38-32 lead after three periods, but trailed 45-43 with 3:05 left when Smithfield-Selma’s Malik Frazier knocked down a 3-pointer.
Cleveland scored six straight points, getting a jump shot from Jacobs, a pair of free throws from Garrett Davenport and a driving basket from Jaylyn Pearce.
Cleveland was still up 50-49 with 25.1 seconds left but missed a pair of free throws to open the door for the Spartans. Smithfield-Selma tried a 3-pointer but it was off the mark and Jacobs grabbed the rebound and was immediately fouled with 3.7 seconds left.
Jacobs, a senior who is the son of the Rams’ coach, stepped to the line and drained both free throws for a 52-49 lead.
“I just wanted to win the game,” Jacobs said. “I was glad I had them on my shoulders because I was confident enough to knock them down. It was good to get a win.”
Senior Landry Moore led the Rams with 13 points, scoring eight straight points for Cleveland during one second-quarter stretch – hitting 3-pointers on consecutive possessions.
“I’m kind of a streaky shooter,” Moore said. “It felt good that they were going down early. I had confidence from the start.
“We had been in this situation the whole season basically and it feels really good to win.”
Jacobs finished with nine points.
Smithfield-Selma got a game-high 16 points from senior guard Raequan Smith and 11 from junior forward Marquise Longmire.
The Cleveland girls were playing without starter Courtney McGregor, a senior wing player who was out with an illness. The Rams offense struggled in the opening period with just seven points, but they set the tone for the game by playing good defense and rebounding to hold Smithfield-Selma to just four points in the period.
“That had some effect,” Danehower said of McGregor’s absence. “There was going to some adjustment period. …
“I thought in the second half we were back to what we normally do. We were getting a lot of rebounds but SSS did a good job of get back in transition and stopping some of the thing we like to do. Give them a lot of credit.”
Cleveland (15-2, 3-0 Two Rivers 3A) led 32-19 at the end of three quarters and blew it open at the beginning of the final period with a 9-2 run to begin the quarter.
The Rams were led by senior wing player Amber Scott with 12 points and junior wing Serinna Pitts with 10.
“(Amber) is a senior and she had really come into her own this year leadership-wise,” Danehower said. “She plays with a lot of passion and energy.”
Smithfield-Selma dropped to 2-14, 1-2 in league play.